While formal "bring your baby to work" policies may still be a novel idea, growing numbers of organizations are allowing employees' infants to accompany them at the office. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute (PIWI), which conducts research and provides resources for bringing babies to work, estimates that more than 2,100 young ones have been brought to work regularly at 200 employers.
Why are employers allowing workers to bring their babies to work? First, doing so may help retain employees, as it can increase employee satisfaction and loyalty, according to PIWI. On-site daycare centers can accomplish the same goals, but they also significantly increase the employer's costs and liabilities. Sarita James wrote in a New York Times op-ed that bringing her new daughter to her corporate office seemed to boost camaraderie and soften relationships with clients and business associates.
These benefits may make a bring your baby to work policy worth your organization's time. But every such program needs basic guidelines and rules to avoid negative consequences. PIWI offers a basic policy template and other resources on its website.
If you plan to develop your own policy, here are four important considerations to make.
Address Fussy Babies
Every baby gets fussy from time to time, but a screaming or colicky baby is unlikely to go over well in the workplace. In your policy, include parameters for how to deal with upset little ones. For instance, the Washington State Department of Health has an infant at work policy that says that if a baby continues to be upset in spite of a parent's efforts to quiet them, the employee should leave the work area or even go outside with the baby. If the infant still won't calm, the policy recommends that parents consider taking them home for the rest of the day.
Establish Guidelines for Cleanliness and Health
Of course babies come with dirty diapers and spit-ups, but that doesn't have to be a problem if you've addressed such occurrences in your written policy. For instance, you might mandate that employees can only change a baby in the restroom and must bring their own container to dispose of diapers. You could also require new parents to bring disinfectant to clean surfaces if there's a diaper or feeding accident. When in doubt, consult legal counsel.
Provide Space for Breastfeeding and Lactation
There are laws that require employers to provide dedicated spaces for breastfeeding or lactation. When setting up a dedicated lactation room, ensure you're compliant with all federal, state and local laws. Some states require employers to provide employees with a reasonable amount of time to express milk or breastfeed a child. Consider talking to an HR professional or employment law attorney to ensure your policies and dedicated space meet all legal litmus tests.
Don't Overlook Other Employees
While bringing a baby to work may be an ideal situation for new parents who can save money on child care and spend more time with their family's newest addition, that doesn't mean the arrangement will work for everyone. Note that not all employees are comfortable around children. Consider limiting the hours or frequency that children can be brought into the workplace. Offering a perk to one employee at the expense of another isn't usually a good idea. Make sure employees know where to go if they have concerns or feel distracted by babies at work.
Like most policies, include language that gives you the flexibility to suspend, revise or amend the policy at any time. This can help you provide notice regarding limitations of the policy, and allow you to improve and address workplace issues that may arise from use — or misuse — of the policy.
While an initiative like this requires a lot more preparation, cooperation and oversight than a simple bring your child to work day, the potential rewards can be that much greater. Before diving in, make sure to gauge employee interest, consider the physical limitations of your workplace and think through the ground rules. As with any business endeavor, though, leave room for revision.
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