Many Working Parents Fear Job Loss or Being Penalized during Covid-19


More than half of working parents fear being a parent is a strike against them in the workplace during Covid-19. According to the new Catalyst -CNBC survey, “The Impact of Covid-19 on Working Parents,” nearly 40% of working parents say that their employer does not have enough benefits for parents to support blended or virtual learning amidst the uncertainty of students of all ages returning to school.

In the survey of 1,000 working parents in the US—which explores the perceptions and uncertainty among parents and caregivers about the impact of their children’s return to school on their careers, parenting, and emotional state—57% of parents fear they will be the first group to be negatively affected by employer decisions.

They also see a risk associated with reaching out to access, or asking for, benefits, fearing they will be penalized or even terminated:

  • Four in ten parents (41%) say they have less job security than they did pre-pandemic; and 38% say they fear being penalized for being a working parent;
  • Forty-one percent of mothers and 36% of fathers say they have had to hide their caregiving struggles;
  • Forty-two percent fear that it would be a risk to their employment to take advantage of childcare offerings or benefits available to them through their workplace;
  • Thirty-nine percent worry that they’ll be terminated if they ask for help.

Additionally, more than a third of parents say they are not aware of the plans their employers have in place for parents, or whether these plans simply do not exist at their company. Nearly half (49%) of working mothers and 39% of working fathers say they are not aware of any employer plans to help with childcare.

The survey also revealed other gender disparities in perceptions of parents’ employers.

  • Working fathers are more likely to say their employer is supporting them with paid leave (26% of men versus 16% of women; and 17% of men say their employer provides additional personal time off vs. 10% of women);
  • Forty-nine percent of fathers report that their workplace has been proactive in expanding benefits since Covid-19 began, versus 37% of women;
  • And working mothers are more likely to say that their organization has not been proactive at all (30% of working mothers versus 20% of working fathers).

“Working parents are combatting insurmountable challenges and impossible choices during the pandemic,” said Lorraine Hariton, President & CEO of Catalyst. “We know some companies have stepped up in big ways to support parents during this time, but as this crisis continues, many of these strategies are fraying. It’s essential that employers view this as an opportunity to lead and help other organizations rethink how work gets done and take action to find creative ways to give employees the support they need.”

The disruption of Covid-19 has left parents across genders, race or ethnicity, and job levels feeling guilty about how they’re managing work and family responsibilities during the pandemic. Over half of parents, 54%, said they feel guilty working because they are not able to attend to their caregiving responsibilities, while 43% said they feel guilty when they are caregiving because they cannot attend to their work tasks.

Despite this dynamic, most parents plan to keep their children in virtual learning, even as two-thirds of parents report that their children’s school is currently open or planning to reopen for in-person learning:

  • The same number of parents, 66%, also report that they are keeping their children in 100% remote or virtual learning;
  • Only 20% plan to have their children participate in 100% in-person, classroom learning, and 57% of parents are either against the idea of sending their children back to in-person school or are unsure.


The survey was commissioned by Catalyst and conducted by Edelman Intelligence. The study surveyed 1,000 US adults (from entry-level employees to executives) who are currently working and are parents of school children, ages 5-18. Among those surveyed, 93% are employed full-time and 7% are part-time (none is self-employed). Respondents included 700 women and 300 men, ages 20-65+. All are parents who work for companies with 500+ employees. All field work was conducted from August 18-26, 2020.

Catalyst is a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with pioneering research, practical tools, and proven solutions to accelerate and advance women into leadership – because progress for women is progress for everyone.

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