Business

Bringing kids to work: What are the limits?

Most workplaces benefit from being family friendly, especially those trying to attract and keep workers who are raising children.

That means having employee policies that anticipate the pull of normal family life, such as sick-kid emergencies or not having day care available on school holidays. Employees look for places that allow vacation time to coincide with school semester breaks. They want work-from-home alternatives, paid parental leave, backup child care assistance.

And when workers aren't given these options, kids might wind up being towed to the office. Employers and co-workers generally want to be empathetic, but there are limits.

Look no further than the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, held as always in late April. Many companies continue to support the concept originally founded by the Ms. Foundation in 1992 to allow girls a glimpse into their parents' work lives. The day was amended in 2003 to add sons on the justifiable theory that they, too, benefit from workplace exposure.

But I'm increasingly hearing from three kinds of naysayers -- human resource professionals who decry such days that aren't well-managed, teachers who rue students' missed days at school, and workers who are bothered by the disruption.

Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, an organization that supplies human resource services to small- and mid-sized businesses, stresses that work access for children should be programmed, safe and rare.

"Once a year, maybe a couple of times a year, it's OK (provided that) children are not left on their own," Starkman said of bringing a child to work. "Even people without children can get" that there's a value to choreographed workplace exposure.

But such access comes with a loss of workplace productivity. So, Starkman said, employers are perfectly within rights to limit work visits by children.

A notable case occurred earlier this year when the Chicago White Sox told team member Adam LaRoche that he needed to limit the times he brought his 14-year-old son to the clubhouse, instead of it continuing to be every day. LaRoche quit the team rather than cut back on his father-son time.

"An outlier reaction," Starkman called it. "But at some point, the employer had to say something. The experience wasn't structured or short time. ... That situation was too much. That wasn't career exposure."

Admittedly, if the owners of companies want to bring children to work, that's their call, and employees who are bothered may decide if they want to work there, assuming they won't or can't challenge the arrangement. As always, talking out disagreements is better than leaving in a huff or suffering in silence.

The bottom line is that in any workplace, there should be clear policies, including limits, on visits by children. Rules can be flexible based on age, safety factors and potential for disruption. But, in the end, work is the priority in the workplace.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to staffordkcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and twitter.com/kcstarstafford.

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