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Kids at work on snow days (or not)

Q: I own a small business. We sell our consulting services to the financial services industry. This past winter we had some productivity challenges because of weather, especially snow. We probably lost five days of revenue because of snow and we felt that we needed to allow employees to leave early. I think we have developed a reasonable inclement weather policy now. However, my real question is this - how do I handle it when some of my consultants feel like they can bring their kids into work on snow days? Or on school holidays? It is becoming the norm to have kids run up and down the halls on these days. I am not sure how to approach this. I do want to run a family-friendly work environment but I can’t have kids and babies here in the office on a regular basis. How can I best handle this?

A: I applaud you for asking such a good question. This winter created havoc for a lot of my clients. Many employers struggle with balancing client demands with the challenges of being a flexible workplace.

I consulted Kathleen Greer, founder and president of KGA, a Human Resources firm that specializes in providing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Greer advised: "It is important to remember that flexible work arrangements always have to work for both employees and the company. Snow days can create big challenges for working parents, especially when there are no back-up plans in place. Each employee should have a plan in place. For some, a back-up care provider for sick and snow days may be researched through the company's EAP."

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. In some cases, an important company-sponsored event may be canceled or postponed. With advances in technology, many of my clients also permit employees to work from home during a snowstorm when hazardous traveling conditions may exist.

Greer also offered the following advice: "For employees who are allowed to bring their children to work, there is a big difference between a child that will read quietly in a conference room, vs. a younger child who may be a bit disruptive. It is the parent's responsibility to be realistic of what will be expected of the child. For employees who must be in the office to do their jobs, a clear policy on bringing children to work is helpful."

It may be worthwhile to solicit input from your management team. How did it work this winter with children in the office? And perhaps more importantly, how did it not work with children in the office? Perhaps you could consider setting some limits on bringing children into the office if you institute such a policy? One policy might look like this:

On occasion, adverse weather conditions or other emergency conditions 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. Employees should contact the office if there is a question. Please call 617-123-4567 for information related to office closures. There will be a recorded message providing employees with necessary information.

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 on the telephone line provided above.

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. We urge working parents/guardians 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. Back-up childcare options can be researched through KGA, our EAP provider.

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