Parents in the Workplace

Parents in the Workplace

Pregnant EmployeeMay and June always put a spotlight on parents, as we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Many of our co-workers are parents, and we all realize that although their children don’t generally come to work with them, they are still parents during their workdays.

Our policies, practices and workplace culture matter to these employees.

Some illuminating statistics about parents in the workplace:

According to the BLS:

  • 34.5 million families in the U.S. have children
  • 87% of those families have an employed parent
  • 71% of mothers with children under 18 are in the labor force & 64% of those have children under the age of 6
  • Both parents are working in 58% of the families

These statistics demonstrate that parents are clearly a significant factor in our workplaces!

Pregnancy and the workplace:

We know that when issues affect large segments of the population, legislation and regulations follow.  This is definitely true when it comes to parents and the workplace, beginning with the pregnancy.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on pregnancy in any employment decision.  You cannot:

  • Refuse to hire someone because they are pregnant
  • Refuse to hire someone because you are concerned they might get pregnant
  • Terminate someone due to their pregnancy
  • Consider someone’s pregnancy in any decision related to job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, etc

Just remember, more than 50% of our workers today are female, and our government recognizes that pregnancy is a normal and expected part of a woman’s life.

You are required to give your employee any medical leave prescribed by her health care provider for her pregnancy.  This does not need to be paid time off, unless your leave policies provide for paid sick time.

If she is temporarily unable to perform her job as a result of the pregnancy or childbirth, you must accommodate her as you would any other disabled employee.  Some of these impairments may even fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Family & Medical Leave Act rules vary for companies by size:

The laws on this subject do vary for companies by size.

For companies of 50 or more employees, rules governing the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) apply, both to mothers and fathers, as well as for adoptions and foster parents.

For very small companies (less than 8 employees) some exceptions do apply.

For more detailed information, you can visit L&I’s website or the Washington Human Rights Commission.

Don’t be caught unaware of your employees’ rights!  In 2011, 5,797 complaints of pregnancy discrimination were filed with the EEOC, and over $17 million in fines were levied against corporations.

Nursing mothers in Washington workplaces:

A lot has been written recently about Seattle’s ordinance protecting the rights of breastfeeding mothers.  Do nursing mothers have any rights in their workplaces outside of Seattle?

They answer is, yes they do — sometimes.

Washington State law does not protect nursing mothers in their workplaces, although it does have a program to promote and support them by allowing employers to follow certain guidelines under which they can advertise their workplaces as being “infant friendly.”

Federal regulations regarding nursing moms in the workplace:

On the federal level, the day Congress passed the Health Care Reform Act, nursing mothers garnered protection in the workplace if their employer has 50 or more employees.

In these cases, employers must allow nursing moms to take reasonable break times during work to express milk.  The employee may take as many of these unpaid breaks as are necessary.  The employer is responsible for providing a private non-bathroom space for the employee where they will not be interrupted.

The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing this law, and more information can be found on their website.

Time off to care for sick children:

If you’ve been a parent you know that children get sick, and children in day care seem to pass illnesses around.  As employers, we have to accept that our employee-parents will have sick children that they occasionally must take care of.

The state’s Family Care Act, which applies to all employers regardless of size, says that if you provide paid time off to your employees, you must allow them to take that time to care for a sick child, without disciplining, demoting, or discharging them.

The definition of a parent is liberal, applying to anyone who is in a position to parent a child (including step-parents, legal guardians, foster parents, etc.), regardless of the child’s age–meaning it even extends to adult children.

How do working parents affect non-parents in the workplace?

According to the BLS, in 2010, almost 59% of the population with no children under the age of 18 were participating in the workforce.

This means we must find ways to provide the necessary work/life balance to parents, and meet the legislated requirements, while reducing the potential conflicts that may result between working parents and employees that do not have children.

My bachelor brother has long complained that when assignments arise requiring someone to be out of town for extended periods of time, or to work late or on weekends, he inevitably draws the short straw.  The perception is that it’s easier for him, since he doesn’t have a family at home.

His argument is the opposite: since he doesn’t have anyone else at home to pick up the slack in his absence, it’s actually harder on him.

In some companies, employees derive more value from benefits packages if they have a family.  Working parents often seek flexible work arrangements and take unexpected days off, requiring their co-workers to pick up the slack in their absence.  It is easy to see how this can become a source of conflict!

Companies must strive to provide work-life balance to all workers:

Smart businesses will recognize that all employees, regardless of their family status, require work/life balance, and that “families” can be defined in many different ways.

Efforts need to be made to accommodate all reasonable requests, and across-the-board fairness has to be our goal.  Benefit packages today can be designed with flexibility and choice, ensuring that family situations don’t result in inequality.

The wrap-up:

In today’s world, with grandparents bringing up their grandchildren, more couples choosing to be childless, women delaying motherhood, more single parents, more working parents, the redefinition of families, and on and on and on, businesses have to change with the changing times.

We must attract and retain the best talent available in order to compete in this ever changing world, and that means our work family must be a diversely happy one.