by Nancy Owen, PHR
I am sure most of you have heard the news story about Adam LaRoche quitting his job with the White Sox and forfeiting over 13 million dollars because he was not allowed to bring his son to work every day. This triggered much public debate over the subject and has started conversations about what exactly is appropriate when it comes to children in the workplace.
In April many organizations participate in “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day”. This nationally recognized event started on Thursday, April 22, 1993 and has continued every April since. More than 3.5 million workplaces and 37 million children, parents and schools across the country have participated.
The event was designed to be a career day of sorts for children. The intended benefits of exposing older children to the workplace include:
- providing an understanding of what their parent/mentor does during the day,
- letting them see what their future may look like, and
- helping them identify what jobs they may be interested in pursuing.
It is obvious that the current workforce wants to be more present and involved in their children’s lives. Yet most workplaces operate by rules that say work and family should be separate.
A 2-sided argument
When it comes to regular visits from children, White Sox Executive Vice President Ken Williams told reporters that he needed to draw the line somewhere as many players might have similar requests about bringing their kids to the clubhouse. Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom wrote that “this is about policy—which workplaces are entitled to set. Otherwise, what stops all 25 White Sox players from bringing their kids in? Don’t you think cops, firemen and soldiers want to be with their kids, too?”
Many employers may share Williams’ concern. In fact, when it comes to bringing kids to work, the list of legitimate concerns is lengthy. First and foremost is safety. Many workplaces will never be safe for children including those that have dangerous machinery and/or other equipment that requires proper training for anyone even in the vicinity of the equipment, let alone operating it. Then there are police stations, fire houses and battlefields.
We also need to ask, if children are to be allowed in the workplace for a one-time event or on an ongoing basis, how will it impact your workers and how will it benefit the children? Will workers be able to get work done? What are the children doing while employees are working?
In some cases, allowing children after-school visits to the workplace can be beneficial. The workplace may allow them to be more productive than if they were sitting at home, alone in front of a television. But, there must be a safe area for them to sit and do homework or even some small job that may benefit the company. It can be a safe, productive way to expose children to more grownups and to the workplace environment. Parents say that the summer is especially challenging considering working parents of school-age children often cannot find day care that is affordable or available for children over age five or six.
Many organizations simply will not allow children in the workplace. In that case, their policy may read like a sample policy from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reads, “The presence of children in the workplace with the employee parent during the employee’s workday is inappropriate and is to be avoided except in emergency situations. This policy is established to avoid disruptions in job duties of the employee and co-workers, reduce property liability, and help maintain the company’s professional work environment.”
So where do we draw the line?
Each organization needs to make its own decision as to what is appropriate and what is not. Those organizations that choose to allow children in the workplace need to establish very clear limits for the parent-employee. In addition, the children need to understand that they must be well behaved at the workplace.
A children-at-work policy really needs to be treated like any other workplace policy. If visits from children will be allowed, the policy must establish clear details regarding when they may visit, the limits on how long they may stay and expectations for how and where their time will be spent. Without a proper policy in place, difficulties and misunderstandings are sure to follow. Especially when the children’s behavior is not monitored.
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