Children in the workplace – what to do, Pattie Hunt Sinacole advises

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Q:  I own a small professional services firm just outside of Boston. I think we are pretty flexible.  We let employees start/end their schedule any time between 8am to 10am, or 4pm to 6pm.  We give a few mental health days. We have a generous PTO policy.  We let employees work from home when needed.  Now though we have employees who bring young kids to work on snow/inclement weather days.  I am at a loss on how to approach this.  I would be fine if employees brought older kids in occasionally.  I do want to run a family-friendly work environment, but younger kids disrupt our office.  What is your advice? 

A:  Many employers struggle with balancing client demands with the challenges of being a flexible workplace.  Employers are also challenged by attracting and retaining talent, which make this quandary even more difficult.

Flexible work arrangements have to work for both the employee and the employer. It is important for parents of young children to have a back-up plan for child care.  Maybe it is a grandparent, neighbor or partner take turns to minimize the number of days out.  Employees may even offer work from home days, if the sick child can remain somewhat independent during the day.

Many of my clients have instituted polices on adverse weather conditions.  Some have developed broader policies on emergency closings (which include guidelines for employees regarding weather-related closings).  This policy often includes how to find out if the company is closed for business or is expecting to close early because of an ominous forecast, or other emergency condition.   Some employers may have a written policy on this topic.  It would be important to address children who may be contagious with illnesses like COVID-19, the flu or hand, foot and mouth disease.

On occasion, adverse weather conditions or other emergency conditions (e.g., power outages, road closures or similar) may cause employees to be concerned about safety in traveling to or from work, depending on the distance of travel, the hazards of travel, the availability of public transportation or a number of other factors.  In such cases, employees will need to make judgments about whether to stay home or to leave work early after consultation with their supervisor.  If necessary, the Company may close due to inclement weather or another emergency condition.  Employees should contact the office if there is a question.  Please check your email frequently for information related to office closures.

There may be an emergency situation, which necessitates closing our office for a portion of the workday.  Inclement weather, power outages or the like may require us to close our office early or delay the start of the workday.  If we are required to close, the Company will inform employees through our employee intranet and by leaving updated information via email.

When a decision is made to close the office, all employees will be paid at their regular rate of pay for any scheduled work time that is missed.

With a supervisor’s permission and depending upon the employee’s role, some employees may be permitted to work at home for a portion of the workday because of inclement weather or an emergency closure.  We urge working parents to research back-up childcare options before such arrangements are needed.  In emergency situations, we will allow parents/guardians to bring children into the office for one workday per calendar year if the child is 10 years old or older.  Any child, regardless of age, should not be brought into the office if they have a communicable illness, like COVID-19 or the flu.

Finally, it is ultimately your responsibility to provide a safe workplace for your employees.  You should issue the final guidance.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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