HR Headaches: My Employee Can’t Find Childcare and Wants to Bring Their Child to Work

Learn how to create a policy to address childcare issues — whether allowing people to bring their children to work or work remotely for the day.

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Are your employees bringing their kids to work?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Consider creating a policy on bringing children into work
  • Allowing your employees to work remotely for the day could be a solution
  • Offering an on-site daycare could help you retain key talent
  • Not all workplaces are safe environments for children
  • Think about whether your customers will be impacted by children in the workplace

As businesses struggle to maintain headcount and keep staffing levels to at least minimums, new issues are arising. Now that most children are back in school and daycare centers are open, the problem of childcare has largely been resolved. For many workers, however, childcare options are limited — they rely on relatives, babysitters, and friends. When those caregivers are ill or unavailable, the employee has a problem and so does the business.

Some staff members simply call off for the day: others ask if they can bring their child with them. For business, the choice can be difficult — manage short-staffed or allow an infant, toddler, tween, or teen on the premises. As team leaders and business owners scramble to decide what to do, there are a lot of considerations. They’ll need to weigh how much disruption will be caused, whether there are liability issues, and whether or not they’ll be setting a precedent they can’t reverse.

Consider whether children in the workplace will cause disruption, liability issues, and customer complaints.

Where we were with childcare

At the height of the pandemic, McKinsey found about 1/3 of mothers were considering leaving the workforce completely or downshifting their careers to better manage childcare responsibilities. As we return to fully on-site, the challenge of reliable childcare continues. For companies lucky enough to have working parents return full- or part-time, there might be a need to make accommodations, as long as they’re occasional, pre-arranged, and have guidance.

Some help for working parents with childcare issues

In response to need, the federal government enhanced childcare tax credits to help Americans get back to their jobs. In addition to increasing the amount of credits available, for 2021, parents could even get a refundable tax credit. Whether the additional credits will be allowed moving forward has yet to be disclosed, but tax credits and incentives to businesses can help.

Another assist for parents can be on-site daycare. Many companies provide facilities that allow parents to bring their children to a center on the premises — even take lunch and breaks together. These facilities may be cost-prohibitive to most employers, but your organization may be able to negotiate discounts or occasional drop-ins with local daycare centers. This low-cost benefit might be a tipping point in favor of attracting and retaining talent.

Bringing the kids to work in the absence of childcare

Creating a policy is a good idea, even if your employers are yet to bring their children to work.

Most companies haven’t had to consider creating a policy on bringing children to work — it simply hasn’t come up. These days, it’s wise to be ready for every contingency, and a policy might be helpful. As you decide whether or not kids at work will be allowed, take these into consideration:

Is the workplace safe?

Not every worksite is a safe environment for children. An office may be more amenable to bringing kids to work than the factory floor. You might allow your servers to keep their children front-of-the-house and under a watchful eye when childcare isn’t available, but kitchen staff will not have that luxury. Consider that allowing some groups of employees the benefit, while denying it to others, could seem unfair, even discriminatory. If you can’t offer it to everyone, you probably shouldn’t offer it at all.

Will the child(ren) affect productivity?

An occasional visit from a child will likely give productivity a small hit, as coworkers stop by to meet and greet. If the child comes to work more frequently, you’ll need to assess whether the benefit outweighs the cost. Children who sleep most of the day, or who watch videos or read probably won’t be a problem. Kids who run around the building looking for something to keep them occupied will.

Where will the child(ren) be located all day?

If you have an empty conference room no one ever uses there might be a way to make kids at the office work. Bonus points if it has a working television or DVD player. For most other companies, where the child will be all day could pose a problem. A beanbag in the corner of mom or dad’s cubicle might work, but that will depend on the age of the child and how well they’re able to amuse themselves while they wait to go home.

Will customers be impacted?

If your business is small, customers may not be happy to see children running around. Depending on the type of business you run, kids don’t typically present the most professional image. If you’re a small retail shop, it might not be an issue. For others, it could make a bad impression. Additionally, if there are a lot of people coming in and out, your employee will have to be vigilant to make sure their child stays put.

It’s crucial to consider how your customers will be impacted by your employers bringing their kids to work.

What will keep the child(ren) occupied during the parent’s shift?

Eight hours is a long time to keep any child older than a newborn occupied, even at home. Shorter shifts might be easier to manage, but four hours to an adult is a lifetime to a 4-year old. Keeping them occupied, so the parent can actually work, will be a challenge. If you have a space where they can run around (safely) or watch television, you may be in luck. If not, the parent will need to supervise and bring enough do-by-yourself activities to minimize disruption.

What age-range of child(ren) is acceptable?

For some businesses, infants and pre-teens or older are easier to welcome to the workplace than children aged in between. Infants sleep most of the day with the occasional need to be fed or changed. Pre-teens and teens can occupy themselves doing homework (if they come to work after school) or on their phones for hours. Toddlers are typically the most challenging to wrangle and keep occupied — they don’t call them the terrible twos for nothing.

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Creating a kid-friendly policy

If you decide to allow children at work when childcare isn’t available, set up some parameters. Yes, there will be the occasional emergency, but for the most part, you’ll want employees to make arrangements in advance, getting the approval of their supervisor, for days and times their child(ren) will be at the workplace. You might set a limit to one child per employee, or allow for more.

Consider age ranges that are acceptable. Some companies successfully allow infants up to 6 months old on-site to help retain employees. For other organizations, kids that arrive at the office after school are acceptable. Remember whatever your policy, it shouldn’t pit employees against each other. If you’re only allowing 12-year-old or over, workers with a 10-year-old may feel slighted.

Outline what physical areas are on- and off-limits to children, no matter their age. Insurance liability aside, you won’t want kids running around disrupting employees or customers, or being in places they shouldn’t be.

Within your policy include how many kids each employee can bring to work, the age ranges, and where they will be located in the office.

Behavioral expectations should also be part of your policy (and enforced). We’ve all seen unruly children running around in public and considered ourselves lucky they weren’t ours. You’ll want parents to assure their child is constantly under their supervision, is well-behaved, quiet, and non-disruptive if they have to be on-site.

Last-minute/no option childcare emergency

What should you do if an employee calls to say their sitter is M.I.A, their child is being sent home from childcare, or they simply show up with a child (or 2 or 3) in tow? If you have a policy in place that prohibits kids at work, you’ll have an easy time letting them know it’s not allowed.

Let the children stay

If you don’t have a policy you can let the employee know there are insurance liabilities and other issues that don’t allow children on site. You may also consider allowing them to stay. If you do, weigh need versus cost and risk. How badly do you need that employee to work their shift that day? If they’re truly indispensable, you have your answer. If they’re not, send them home to attend to their child, and hopefully find alternate care for the next day.

Allow your employee to work remote

Is it possible for the employee to work remotely for the day? If that’s an option, let them know they’re free to work from home. Make sure childcare problems don’t become a reason an employee who should be on-site (like their peers) gets to work remotely

Some staff members have no sick, vacation or personal time to use for the day off. You worry sending them home will impact their paycheck. If you allow them to stay with their child, however, realize you’re setting a precedent that can spread to other workers. Your act of kindness may result in your business turning into a free daycare center for everyone.

Find a childcare policy solution that can work for everyone

When it comes to kids at work, the default response is generally no. Depending on your organization and staff it might be worth considering if it could work for your business. Find a way to allow kids (on rare occasion) that will have the least impact only if you can allow it for every worker in the company. If you can’t offer the benefit to everyone, you probably shouldn’t offer it to anyone.

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