On the heels of the most exciting baseball season in over twenty years for Canadian baseball fans, a few of us are paying more attention to spring training. And although there is little comparison between the working conditions of major leaguers and the rest of us, the “retirement” of Adam LaRoche from the Chicago White Sox, allegedly because he was asked not to bring his son to the clubhouse as much, raises the question of whether it is ever appropriate to bring your kids to work.
In this discussion I am not including Take Our Kids to Work Day, an annual event for grade nine students, sponsored by the Learning Partnership, in which parents are encouraged to take their kids to the workplace to show them what real work is like. Most workplaces expecting these young guests will plan a special program or learning experience for them. Rather, employers may face this issue on other occasions in which employees show up to the workplace with a child in tow.
Unlike Mr. LaRoche’s situation, however, in which it appears that his son’s attendance at the workplace was a father-son bonding experience (which is reportedly not atypical in baseball), most employees would not make a regular habit of attending work with a child, but may on occasion feel that there is no alternative in cases of unexpected daycare emergencies, snow days or sick days, when a day of work can’t be missed. Even though most provinces provide for emergency or family responsibility days, they are usually unpaid, and even in cases where pay is not an issue, there are times when an employee may feel that they can’t miss work due to what’s on the day’s agenda.
Initial reaction to children at work is usually negative (even more negative than when an employee shows up with his or her dog!). Children may be a distraction to not only the employee parent but to everyone in the workplace. Children require supervision which would divide the attention of the employee and compromise productivity. In addition, children may be exposed to adult behaviour and language in the workplace which is inappropriate.
An employer’s response will, of course, depend on the type of workplace. Obviously it is never acceptable to have a child attend at a construction site or manufacturing operation due to safety issues, and employers may want to impose strict “no visitors” policies in these situations.
In other cases, however, where the environment is safe, it may be appropriate to be more tolerant of the occasional attendance of a child in the workplace, and may even be a considered reasonable accommodation of an employee on the basis of family status. In such circumstances, however, employers should set some strict ground rules:
- only the rarest of occasions, and only as an absolute last resort
- only in a safe, low risk environment
- child must be well-behaved and quiet
- child should be minimal distraction to the employee parent and no distraction to other employees
- child care should never be handed off to another (often more junior) employee
Keep in mind that the accommodation of breastfeeding employees may also require reasonable attendance of children in the workplace. Look for a detailed discussion of Accommodation for Breastfeeding, in an upcoming release of the Human Resources PolicyPro.