my boss drops his sick kid off in our small office

A reader writes:

I work for a very small company (five employees plus our boss, who is the company owner). We all work in one room, and the boss’s house is on the property. Our boss “Joe” is, in general, a kind, understanding person. He can occasionally be volatile, but we are paid pretty well, have generous time off/work from home policies, and pretty good health insurance, so no one really complains too much.

Joe is a single dad who has his son, “Louie,” 75% of the time. Louie is five years old. In the summer — and when he’s too sick to go to school — dad sets him up in front of a movie all workday long, in the office with the rest of us. Typically no one cares about this as he’s not generally disruptive (because he’s zoned out in front of Power Rangers), but we’re basically a babysitting team — getting him snacks (generally our own), reminding him to be quiet, etc. He’s too young to be in the house by himself, and he complains about being lonely when he’s not with us.

The real problem is that when he’s sick (and he’s sick fairly often) he sits in our office, all day long, coughing and sneezing and refusing to cover his mouth. One day last year, the kid literally threw up FIVE TIMES in the office with all of us before Dad decided to take him home. Our boss has been through a rough custody battle and we know he’s trying his best, and childcare is expensive. I’m pretty sure we’re all too afraid to tell him to take the kid up to the house in fear of some kind of retaliation or shame (none of us have kids).

What do I do here? I cannot afford to get sick — I’m a grad student in addition to working here — but I feel like I’m trapped with a kindergartner with the plague.

I wrote back and asked, “Is it an option for your boss to work from home on those days? And why are the rest of you in charge of entertaining Louie and giving him snacks? Where’s your boss while that stuff is happening?”

Because my boss’s house is on the property, he’s pretty much always “working from home” but he doesn’t do office work with us — it’s a business with a lot of outdoor work, so he’s always working outside and leaves the kid with us in the office. I assume he feels like he doesn’t really have time to just hang out in the house watching his kid (which is mostly true).

Oh, that made it worse.

Joe is using the rest of you as babysitters, and that’s not okay.

Before your addendum, I’d thought maybe he was bringing Louie into the office intending to watch him, and the rest of you were stepping in when you didn’t necessarily need to. But Joe is bringing him in and leaving him there while he goes to work outside. There’s not even a fig leaf of a pretense that he’s intending to watch him himself.

So there are two issues here: one is that Joe is using you and your coworkers as babysitters when you haven’t signed up for that (and presumably would feel some qualms about telling him you won’t do it, given the power dynamics involved), and the other is the germs.

You’re not asking me for advice on the first one so I won’t dwell on it, but do know that you and your coworkers have the option to tell him you’re not comfortable being responsible for his kid while you’re working. Or smaller version that if you prefer, like that he needs to provide snacks for Louie so that he’s not eating yours.

But you’re asking about the sickness part, so let’s tackle that. It is BEYOND REASONABLE to tell Joe that he can’t bring Louie to work when he’s sick. Yes, Joe is your boss — but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to set any boundaries at all! This is in the category of things you get to say to your boss, and that’s doubly true since he’s relying on you for child care.

You noted that child care is expensive, and that’s true! So he’s already getting a really, really good deal by getting it for free from you and your coworkers most days. Asking him to make the one concession of not bringing a contagious kid into your workplace all day is … not enough compensation for the child care you’re already providing, and in no way unreasonable or an overstep.

You also said you’re afraid of some sort of retaliation. Do you have any particular reason to fear that? You said Joe is a kind, understanding person, so I’m guessing he doesn’t have a track record of retaliating against people for reasonable requests. I’m guessing you’re doing that thing people do, where the power dynamics alone make you fear retaliation even though there’s no evidence the manager would react that way (and even though no reasonable manager would). Power dynamics are real, but decent bosses don’t turn into raving tyrants just because someone asks them to do something differently. (And if Joe is a good person, he’d rather hear this is bothering you than be oblivious to your resentment and unhappiness.)

I suspect you’re also worried that even if Joe is receptive to hearing your concerns, he doesn’t have any other options when Louie is sick. And it’s true that as a society we have completely failed working parents in this regard — most daycare centers won’t take sick kids, and staying home with them can mean missed work and missed pay. But people do figure this out and cobble together options, and Joe would have to do that if he didn’t own this business. It’s not right for him to make his employees shoulder that burden for him without their active consent.

So, talk to Joe. Tell him you’re willing to watch Louie other times (if that’s true) but that when he’s sick he needs to keep him at home. If your coworkers agree, try to get them to say this as a group. And do it this week because cold and flu season is coming.

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. Glomarization, Esq.*

    This arrangement will be all fun and games for Joe until there’s some kind of accident and he loses his business insurance, commercial occupancy license, etc.

    1. Michelle*

      I agree. What if they kid gets hurt or as he gets older he won’t be as easily distracted by TV or something? I’d be scared that the child was going to get injured or spike a really high fever. If he fell and bumped his head and needed emergency care would Joe think it’s the staff’s fault for not watching him closer?

    2. hbc*

      I see this come up all the time, and I doubt it’s a real risk. It’s one thing if we’re talking babies or manufacturing floors or something, but a five year old usually has access to desks and pencils and other typical office supplies at home. The chance of an accident is probably lower than at home in this situation.

      And then there’s the fact that Joe is the owner and this is all on his property. If he has to take his kid to the emergency room for eating staples or bonking his head against a desk, I’m pretty sure Joe will just say that it happened at his “home office” and nothing will happen.

      I’m not saying this is a great situation, but I feel like raising the tiny chance of legal/health problems will lead to Joe dismissing complaints about more significant issues.

      1. Red Spider*

        I agree with this. I wouldn’t focus on safety of the child because there’s nothing about this environment that sounds particularly unsafe and it would be too easy for Joe to dismiss the concern.

      2. EPLawyer*

        except if the ex finds out his employees are watching the kid. trust me on this, she will blow a gasket. If the custody battle was already nasty, finding out he does not have competent child care is not going to go over well.

        Joe needs to figure out his childcare issues so that his employees are not bearing the burden. It’s not fair to them and its not fair to the kid.

        1. Not a Blossom*

          That’s a good point. And chances are high that she WILL find out, because the kid will likely say something to mom (as kids do; he doesn’t know this situation is hinky).

        2. Red Spider*

          There is no reason to think that Joe has an adversarial relationship with the child’s mother. And even if he does, that is absolutely not OP’s responsibility or concern. OP should only be focusing on how this affects their ability to to their job.

          1. 2 Cents*

            Except the letter writer said the custody battle was a nasty one. Which leads most readers to assume that Joe isn’t on great terms with the child’s mom.

            1. Red Spider*

              You’re right. I missed that. But my second point still applies. It’s not relevant to the issue that OP is facing and shouldn’t be a factor in how OP addresses this.

              1. Majorly obvious comment*

                Exactly. Employees should not get inserted into their boss’ divorce, but not should they insert themselves.

        3. Sarah N.*

          This. Sitting a kid in front of a television to watch movies all day every day, with untrained/non-childcare workers to watch him, is not appropriate childcare. It’s one thing to hang with a sick kid and watch movies once in a while — I definitely do that when my kiddo is too sick to do anything else. But it’s not really a good plan for multiple days/as your regular childcare plan. And the ex absolutely will eventually figure this out, since the kid is 5 years old and can talk, and will take him to court over it. I’m guessing a judge will look REALLY unkindly on this as a plan for caring for a child, especially when it’s the regular, everyday thing and not “I ran into a bizarre emergency and asked my colleague to watch my kid this one time.”

          1. London Calling*

            Doesn’t that trigger all sorts of safeguarding issues? untrained staff looking after a child, presumably not medically trained either if the child is really sick. Poor little boy, being dumped on people who don’t want to and can’t look after him and feeling unwell into the bargain.

          2. Luna*

            That last bit is really important. For obtaining majority of custody, you have to be deemed stable in various aspects to be able to care for the child — financially, economically, emotionally, and, yes, being able to take care of the child, which includes having someone to watch the child while he’s busy working. I find it hard to believe that he would get majority of custody without having provided proof that he has childcare and similar down pat.

        4. hbc*

          Of course, I’d be livid if my husband got custody to park him in front of the TV all summer and every sick leave. But that has nothing to do with insurance, and whether or not his ex-wife learns about it is not the OP’s concern.

          1. hbc*

            Come to think of it, he might even be gaming the custody somewhat with this arrangement. Lots of parents will point at the other parent using daycare or babysitters as proof that they’re not really taking care of their own kid. If Joe’s stretching things to say “Louie stays with me, I work from home,” he’s not being a great parent or ex, but it’s certainly serving his interest to have Louie nearby.

      3. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Just like with TV stands and clothes dressers, I think there’s a real risk that a 5-year-old could pull something over on himself — a filing cabinet — or jam his fingers in something, or roll something over his foot, or do any number of things to himself that a 5-year-old could do in a space that’s not geared toward children. And unless it’s a licensed daycare, there shouldn’t be any babysitting happening on the premises. Never mind that the employees themselves, even some number of them are parents, almost certainly haven’t done any state-mandated training to work in a childcare capacity.

        If Louis gets hurt on the premises, and the insurance company and the local zoning and licensing authority find out, and Joe will be up a creek without a paddle. (Whether the business is located on his property isn’t relevant. If your home business involves childcare, then you need a license and insurance for that just as you would in a commercial space that you don’t own.) I mean, it will be existential for his business.

        Joe is definitely stuck between a rock and a hard place, just as many working parents are.

        1. Colette*

          This is a child who lives there. I don’t think there is a lot of danger of any of this causing problems.

          I don’t think Joe should have the OP watch Louis – partly because it’s not here job, and partly because he presumably hasn’t done the kind of screening that childcare workers get (e.g. police check) – but the only issue that is the OP’s to raise is that she doesn’t want to be exposed to a sick kid (and that she doesn’t want to babysit generally, if that’s an issue for her).

          1. the enigma cipher*

            All of this stuff about insurance and Joe’s divorce are none of OP’s business, and she should not raise them with Joe.

            The only concern is that the kid can be distracting (Joe likely knows this) and spread germs. OP can tactfully say she’s immuni-compromised or has a relative who is.

            On a side note, I doubt that Louis is the first kid to be around a home office or home based business. And if Joe is not the first parent to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, the solution may be messy and imperfect, but workable, just as if he were a working mother. There would be a lot less criticism and a lot more “she’s a rockstar” if the gender roles were reversed.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              That distraction is really important though. In fact, I think it would behoove the LW to write up a quick analysis of what it’s costing Joe, in real funds, to have 5 people babysitting a sick kid. I’m certain that it’s significantly more expensive than some college student looking for extra cash just down the street. If it were me, I’d also look at past instances in which the staff took time off (sick time) due to having Louie in the office while sick. Lastly, I went to a local YMCA day camp when I was a kid and I loved it. In fact, I just went to my local YMCA website and the camp I went to is $150/week. That sounds really large, but is $3.50 per business work hour. Which is WAY cheaper than even the OP ruining her concentration while peripherally watching Louie.

            2. Johnny Tarr*

              Oh my. Women are not usually called rockstars for being uninvolved parents. There are letters about moms who foist childcare onto employees on this very website and the advice is not “say nothing, she’s a rockstar.”

            3. Luna*

              I can assure you that I doubt the change in gender would involve people being okay with a kid being foistered onto employees that are not being paid to watch the child. I would be annoyed if a woman were to do this, just as much as I am at this guy doing it.

            4. it's me*

              “There would be a lot less criticism and a lot more ‘she’s a rockstar’ if the gender roles were reversed.”
              I feel very confident in saying that would not in fact be the case.

        2. Malarkey01*

          You don’t need zoning and licenses for your own child to be watched on your own property (or every single parent that hires a babysitter for a night out would be in trouble). If they were charging other families to leave their children that would be different.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There are lots of loopholes in business that allow for owners kids to be around.

      And yes, it’s risky to let anyone into your business on an insurance level but in reality, we all play that game and insurance agencies don’t drop you much, they just take you to the cleaners in your next set of premiums if something does happen that comes.

      This is assuming that Joe is going to report his kid being hurt in the office/business itself. He’s probably just going to take Junior to the doctors and say “He pulled the tv off the stand” and say it happened at home, not the office that’s in his out building on his property.

    4. Mama Bear*

      I realize Joe is the boss, but does he ever take time off for himself? Or is he the type to answer emails at 9PM because he’s still working? Maybe remind him that he’s picked a good team and you all can handle things when he’s unable to be in the office/at work. Help him delegate? Sounds like if he’d just be in the house with the kid, it would be healthier for all involved.

    5. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Yeah, an essentially unattended child becomes all kinds of liability. I’ve worked in family-owned small businesses where the owners bring their kids to work and turn them loose, expecting the staff to watch the kids. What are these parents thinking????? But family businesses often take the view that the paid workers are there whatever the boss needs doing (here’s my grocery list, you can do this on your lunch hour).

      I didn’t let myself get sucked into playing babysitter but it was hard. You come off looking heartless and uncooperative. But I won’t accept tacit responsibility for someone else’s child, the liabilities are too great.

  2. rebelipar*

    What would happen to the employees if something happened to the kid while they were unofficially babysitting for free? If he wandered outside into the road, choked on something, or hurt himself? Big ol’ nope from me on the being in charge of the boss’s kid, but not really, but actually definitely.

    1. OP*

      Hey, OP here! I addressed this in my own big long comment, but just wanted to say that the chances of this happening are slim. We are in a super rural area (no traffic really), and when I say we work in one room, I mean one room. It’s like a generously sized living room with desks, and kiddo has the couch all to himself. So no real safety concerns.

  3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Since Joe leaves Louie in the office while doing outdoor work, would it be possible for you guys in the office to pick up some of the outdoor work on the days Louie is sick, so Joe can focus on caring for Louie?

    Of course, only offer this if Joe gives you a firm no on staying home with the kid; he might be reasonable and agree with you that Louie should be home in bed, after all.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Depends on what the outdoor work is. Office workers might not be prepared or qualified to make estimates for window installation, or whatever the business is.

      1. Me*

        Since the LW says outside an not off-site, it would seem unlikely it’s the type of work you reference.

        That said, people can learn and be trained to do things. If they’re open to it, it’s an option.

        This is one of those cases where knowing the type of work might be helpful.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They’d have to be properly classified by workers comp though. We have a strict “no office workers in the shop, evaaaaaa” rule. But we’re sucker for rules and my bosses are very straight laced in that way.

          Other places are willing to fudge on that though and take the risk or just reclassify you. I’ve worked in plenty of shops myself where there’s options if you wanted to try something else. So yeah, it’s certainly going to depend very specifically on your boss and what you’re doing.

          I’ve worked for a mechanic before. So I could have days I’d be really welcome out in the shop to help organize things or do go-backs for parts. Other days, I had already done all the things I was able to do out there and I wasn’t ever going to be able to learn to actually fix a car itself nor would they ever dream of letting me touch a client’s automobile other than to move it around the lot or pull it out for a customer!

          1. Me*

            I don’t disagree, but that’s pretty dependent on the bosses willingness to do so. If that’s the only thing that will stand, and Boss refuses, then the option is to tolerate or leave.

            The best option would be for Boss to find childcare. If that’s not on the table, then what options are left to the LW.

          2. JustaTech*

            I agree, but it sounds like Louie is only staying in the office when he’s sick? There are very, very few child care centers that will take sick kids (I know of one, that’s attached to a cancer hospital and is for the kids of workers who need to come in and do surgery/research).

            If this primarily happens in the summer the boss would be better off hiring a high school aged baby sitter (since the dad is in reasonably close physical proximity). Maybe if the OP or one of the other office staff knows a teen looking for sitting gigs they could mention it to the boss?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      When I hear “Outdoor work”, I think of landscaping and construction. That’s stuff that you don’t just get to go jump into.

      I mean, I’d use these days to do inventory if that was available. So I agree, there may be something outside the office to do but if there are 5 people in there, I get the feeling some of them are chained to phones and emails, processing quotes or billings.

      1. Helena*

        I was thinking farming (or a related industry like cheese production, vineyard, orchard). Maybe a garden centre/nursery. Which would explain why the house is on-site.

        But yes, you don’t get the admin assistant to drive your combine harvester on a whim, or take over any other farming-related job for the day without proper training.

  4. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

    Weeeeelllllllll, he’s “a kind, understanding person” but also “occasionally… volatile.” What does that mean? He’ll get in a snit? He’ll get in a snit and fire you? He’ll throw things? If it’s just a snit … let him.

    OP, you don’t say whether you or your coworkers have actually gotten sick, but if you have I would point that out when you talk to him (so that as well as regular consideration, he sees that he’s setting multiple people up to miss work instead of hiring a sitter or missing work by himself).

    1. The Original K.*

      This was the first place my mind went. Leaving aside the fact that it’s not cool of Joe to put their health at risk by forcing them to care for his sick kid (and IMO this is the biggest issue), they’re a small company and I would imagine it would be pretty inconvenient for them to have several people out sick at a time. Is Louie in there with strep throat? Pinkeye?

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I would be unsurprised if Joe just expects everyone to work sick, given his behavior with his child.

    2. awesome*

      This stood out to me as well. I am curious if the “occasionally volatile” is holding them back at all here

    3. MsSolo*

      Yes, I really don’t like that combo. It’s very reminiscent of the kind of letters Captain Awkward gets where “he’s lovely and generous and sweet and the best person in the world except when…”. It’s a bit odd to describe your boss as kind and understanding outside of a questions about bereavement leave or similar, and when it’s paired with “occasionally volatile” it smacks of trying to minimise a serious problem by hiding it in a positive box.

      Who are the workers trying to protect from his volatility by not rocking the boat here? Themselves? The clients? The kid?

    1. Lynca*

      Honestly you’re going to be hard pressed to find a sitter willing to take care of a sick child. It’s a huge liability and a huge risk to their income.

      1. remizidae*

        There have got to be sitters who will care for a sick child–parents can’t always take time off work on short notice. Just pay the sitter more to make up for the contagion/annoyance.

        1. annony*

          I think it is easier to get a sitter you use regularly to watch your sick kid than to find one who will watch your kid exclusively when they are sick.

        2. Sarah N.*

          Yep — our go-to sick kid sitter service is Nanno. (This is not an advertisement — just what we use if OP wants to make a practical suggestion.) It is NOT CHEAP but they will send someone on short notice and we’ve never had a problem finding some to watch a mildly sick kid. (I wouldn’t use them, or any sitter, to watch a severely ill child — in those situations, a parent really needs to just suck it up and miss work.)

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        If it’s an actual babysitter, as in they come to your home to watch the kid, you have a lot better chances of finding someone. It’s daycare or out of home providers that will have nothing to do with sick kids because they risk infecting the others at the facility.

      3. Mama Bear*

        We belong to a community listserv and there are often parents looking for sick-kid sitters. As long as it’s fairly mild, they seem to find someone. Joe needs to find someone he can call in a pinch. If Louie is really sick (like if he even vomits once) then he needs his dad and Joe needs to be home with him. I’d nudge Joe into finding a sitter. “Hey, Joe, my sister’s kid had a low fever and she used x service for her kid that day. It worked out really great and she said the cost was reasonable. Here’s the info if you need it.” HINT.

        As Louie gets older, park and rec programs or the YMCA can be reasonably priced summer camp care.

      4. Anon4This*

        Yup. You would think this service would exist. I mean, what are people supposed to do? Mostly people cobble things together and fake it and hope for the best. I remember when my kids were in daycare, if they were sick I would give them medicine to mask the symptoms for a few hours, then run around getting things done that absolutely had to get done before the medicine wore off and the dreaded call came. And now I feel ashamed that I ever did that. Plus of course it perpetuates the vicious cycle of kids in daycare getting sick all the time. But at the time, I had no other options. Nobody wants to watch a sick kid.

        1. Avasarala*

          The service used to be a friend or family member… it’s tough for people who don’t have that option.

    2. Laura H.*

      In addition, if there’s a sitter or service someone in your group who has kids uses, (or a good way to get one) and boss is reasonable and appreciates suggestions, that might go a long way.

      But don’t do that for boss if no one has something like that. It’s his issue to research and solve.

      Things can be overwhelming as a parent and things can be overwhelming as a manager; trying to tackle both simultaneously can sometimes be too much. A little help if able goes a long way.

      It’s not your problem to solve, but if you happen to have something helpful that may help accomplish the objective and are willing/ able to offer a suggestion, consider that.

  5. somanyquestions*

    I feel so bad for that little kid. That’s not OK, that he’s just stuck in an office watching an ipad all summer, and if he’s sick he needs to be allowed to rest and lie down. He’s 5. He really needs to play and have interaction.

    Crappy situation all around, but Joe needs to do better even if childcare is expensive. I get that, it was insane paying for my kids, but you don’t get to just skip it.

    1. Heidi*

      Seriously. A five year-old spending the entire summer vacation in an office sounds dreadful.

      I’d keep a box of disposable masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer in my desk drawer. As I get older, the little sniffles that kids pass around seem to hit me a bit harder. Don’t take the ability to breathe out of both nostrils for granted.

    2. Zona the Great*

      And this is the real reason why what Joe is doing is so terrible. If OP didn’t swear he were decent I’d wonder if he weren’t banking on the idea that most people would feel so badly for this poor child and give him the attention he needs.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        He is decent. Yeah, Joe is a decent guy and a decent father and a decent employer, by which I mean he is not actively bad.
        He’s doing the best he can…in his mind.
        He’s choosing not to register the child with a summer day care program where he will play and swim and make friends. What kid wouldn’t LOVE to watch TV all day? His kid should be thrilled about this.
        He’s deciding that he’s paying people to sit on his property all day, so they can keep an eye on the kid, he’s no trouble. What’s ONE snack? He can go to the bathroom by himself. Nobody has to change diapers. He practically watches himself. What’s the big deal, right?
        So yeah, I’ll fall on the side that he has no idea what he’s asking, not that he doesn’t give a damn what he’s asking. But he still knows that daycare and sitters cost money. And he’s choosing not to do that.

        1. Caliente*

          Yeah, thanks for saying this. This guy – just, no. When I got to where OP said Louie said he’s lonely I just teared up. I don’t know what Joe thinks he’s doing but he needs to figure out how to raise a child and foisting them onto others ain’t the way.
          There are free and low cost things to do, or meet some parents – most would probably be willing to have play dates, etc. But for the guy who expects everyone else to do his job – maybe not.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Ugh, I wouldn’t have wanted to watch TV all day as a kid. I’d have gotten bored out of my mind after a while.

        3. Fikly*

          Not actively bad does not mean decent, or acceptable. Neglect can still get kids taken away from you for a reason.

        4. OP*

          OP here! This is a perfect summation of my thoughts on my boss. He absolutely thinks he’s doing the best he can, and he absolutely thinks that he’s giving his kid a treat by letting him watch movies all day. The point of my question was definitely the “how do I deal with a super sick kid in my office,” but I definitely feel awful that the kid’s watching TV all day. To the point where I’ve tried to give him books, talk to him while I eat lunch, etc. but of course if you’re 5 and you get to watch movies all day, why would you read a book?

          Anyway. I just wanted to thank you for your great description of what this situation is actually like! :)

    3. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah I’ll be honest I’m worn a little thin with the “childcare is expensive” excuse to push your kids off on other people. Like, I know its expensive… Its really expensive. But there’s lots of things in life that are expensive and you still have to pay them or come up with a work around.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Esp. since this boy is now 5 years old. I know costs have gone up in the 10 years since I used child care, but for summer, there were generally options like YMCA summer day camp or parks & recs programs that weren’t outrageous. I mean, this guy owns a business that requires 5 people to support it and keeps his expenses down by running it off his personal residence property. I am betting he could afford it, but the employees have set him up so that he doesn’t have to do anything about it.

        1. A*

          I’m definitely not defending these circumstances, but I do think it’s worth noting that in many parts of the US summer child care – even the YMCA – is indeed outrageous/cost prohibitive. I have friends with combined incomes well into the six figures that still struggle to afford it. And unless it’s a sleep away camp, you’re still on your own for providing child care when they get sick.

          1. LawBee*

            Same. One of my friends said the other day that she and her husband make too much money to be paycheck-to-paycheck, but they have small kids and childcare takes a huge bite out of their budget.

            I mean, there’s a reason why the response to the stick figure family car decals is the two adults and a big bag of cash decal.

        2. Clisby*

          Seconded, for the summer. At least where I live there are a bunch of very reasonably priced half-day/full-day camps for kids (usually through the city/county rec. dept., but there are private ones as well.) Joe would be doing a good thing if he got his kid into some of those, so he could be around other kids and have a variety of activities.

          1. Clisby*

            I did this with my kids even though I worked from home, remotely, and could have just kept them with me. Not every single day of the summer, but I had each of them do some kind of half-day camp for 4 weeks in the summer. The rest of the time they could hang out at home (no TV, no iPad, lots of other stuff to play with.)

            Examples: The Methodist church down the street had a nice vacation bible school. I’m not religious, but this was fine, and kids in the neighborhood attended. The Atlanta Zoo was about a 10-minute walk from our house, and they had summer sessions for little kids. My daughter loved those. Here in Charleston, my son did half-day camps on Lego Robotics and soccer. They got plenty of downtime with me, but getting out with other kids was a great advantage.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Around here, VBS is a major source of childcare for a TON of working parents. If you play your cards right, you can get safe, free childcare with fun activities (and sometimes snacks or lunch provided) for at least half the summer. Many schools also provide summer programs that run during school hours M-F, including lunch. We also have lots of kids programs that charge based on income. Yes, it’s hard and complicated and can be expensive to find good childcare , but it’s also part of raising a kid properly not to just park them in front of a screen for EIGHT MFing HOURS A DAY.

              1. DJ*

                My mom did this. She didn’t work at the time but she would send us to VBS to get a break during the summer. And I agree it can be a great option if funds are limited. I definitely recommend vetting the programs so you don’t end up sending them somewhere weird though. I still remember one I went to where the guy played snippets of spice girls and backstreet boys (can you tell how old I am?) then told us how horrible they were.

        3. Bunny Girl*

          Yeah that’s a really long time to go without a childcare set up. I’ve known people who share a babysitter with friends who have similar aged kids and that’s worked out well and been cost effective. And there’s summer or day camps and a million other things. There are work arounds. They exist. But ole Joe is just dumping his kid on his direct reports and thinking that his problems are solved! I know OP said her boss was nice (but volatile?) but nice people don’t generally use the power dynamics over their direct reports to get free child care, sorry.

        4. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          Maybe this isn’t any longer a viable solution and I’m still stuck in the world of 15 years ago. But for the summers (not the sick days)…is there a local 15-yo with some babysitting experience who can come over even, say, 4 hours a day, get the kid out of the office, play outside, get paid in cash?

          1. Clisby*

            Possibly, and I’d say that could be a good option. But expect to pay a babysitter $10-$15 per hour.

            1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

              So, jeezy, how the hell much is your child’s well-being worth? Joe probably bills his clients for what HIS work is worth; childminders do the same. No mystery there.

              I appreciate that it’s not easy for working parents, but expecting his staff to do two jobs for the price of one is not reasonable.

        5. PVR*

          There are a lot of rural/small town areas of the US that do not have YMCAs or these types of programs readily available. Even in places with universities.

    4. Sarah N.*

      I totally agree. I get slightly crazy if I think too hard about the amount we pay for childcare. Our daycare bill is almost as much as our mortgage, and it SUCKS, believe me, but it is just sort of part of the deal of being a parent if you don’t have family nearby who is willing to help out.

    5. Sleepless*

      My boss’s kid used to spend the entire summer in our break room watching movies, occasionally wandering out to get in people’s way and make messes other people had to clean up. It was infuriating and there was absolutely NO way to talk to the boss about it. It wasn’t the kid’s fault, and I felt really bad for her.

    6. Parenthetically*

      Seriously my first thought. Parked in front of a TV all day ALL SUMMER? It’s absolutely horrible for his brain and body development. 5-year-olds need physical activity on a biological level — it’s almost as basic a need as food, water, and sleep.

      This isn’t abusive, but it’s shitty parenting.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I have a (neurotypical) five-year-old. This is absolutely correct. If they don’t get a minimum of physical activity every single day, they turn into demons. They watch tv upside down, or dancing, or climbing. Even when they’re totally focused on a game on a console, they squirm. So you take them out regularly, like puppies, regardless of the weather, to run it off. Playcentres and indoor inflatable centres and trampoline parks exist to run off that energy without draining the parents’ will to live.

        If Joe isn’t giving Louie opportunities for physical activity outside the working day (maybe going for a proper walk to the park, or riding his bike on the drive for half an hour) then he must really struggle with him after hours.

        If Joe isn’t giving Louie opportunities to socialise with other children – not even necessarily other 5yos but just other young children – then he’s going to continue to be lonely, and he’s going to get odd ideas about how to be a child.

        In my country children are at school by 5 – I have an idea it’s different in the US. Is this problem likely to change in timing or scope in the next few years? Will Louie age into cheaper or more available childcare options? Does summer day camp start at age 6? Basically, is Joe working on the assumption that this is a short term issue?

        I am not unsympathetic to childcare cost issues. I’m grateful for school because I barely break even for hourly childcare costs when school is closed (but I work flexibly and can work in the evening when my spouse is home so we can share care). But I think this kind of situation falls under “if you can’t afford xyz totally predictable cost of business, your business isn’t viable”.

    7. phc jr.*

      Someone has likely already said it, but Joe needs to work something out (for the not-sick days, anyway) with the parents of one or two of Louie’s friends, so that he can stay at another house with some other kids to play with. If there’s no stay-at-home parent willing to watch them, two or three families going in on a sitter is a bit less expensive than most other daycare options.

  6. pleaset*

    There are three issues – the two AAM mentioned plus a kid being left in an office for days on end saying he’s bored is not great.

    A five-year-old should be reading or drawing or playing or running around or daydreaming. Watching movies all day for weeks in the summer is not right for a five-year-old. Really not good. In front of a screen all day for a few days when sick – fine if that’s all he’s got for coverage. But summer vacation like that? No. No. No.

    I know this is off-topic – AAM feel free to delete.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I don’t think this is off topic at all. This is critical to the topic. Joe the boss does what is easiest for Joe the boss. He wanted the majority of custody with no plans whatsoever for handling it. He’s pawned off the child care responsibilities to his staff…and he doesn’t care. He left his child to be raised by the TV…and he doesn’t care. This is not a person who has reasonable expectations for either staff or children. He gets what he wants. The kid, the free daycare. What DO you do in this situation? Especially when OP and the other staff actually DO give a rat’s ass about the kid. No, they don’t have to: watch him, give him snacks, make sure he’s ok in the bathroom – this wasn’t mentioned but I watch four and five year olds – did you wash your hands? give him kleenex when he’s sick. But they do. How do you push back on this?

      1. PVR*

        We don’t know why he wanted custody and I’m guessing the OP is not privy to these details either. The fact that he obtained custody may suggest there is a reason the mother was unfit in some way. Usually custody is shared in some way unless there is a significant issue. We don’t know. It’s none of our business. And it does not help the OP solve the issue at hand which is unwittingly providing free childcare to a sick child.

    2. Agnodike*

      How other people choose to parent their kids isn’t within the scope of a work advice blog, and, frankly, I don’t think it’s such a great topic for a debate, either. Pretty much everyone agrees that there’s an “ideal” when it comes to parenting – all physical, emotional, and intellectual needs met, all the time. Pretty much everyone also agrees that zero percent of parents meet that standard. The grey zone where “almost perfect” ranges into “not ideal” ranges into “harmful” is an extremely tricky one to navigate and is absolutely not one that should be assessed based on third-hand reports and incomplete information. Mind your own business unless you’re directly involved. Gossiping about and judging strangers isn’t a great habit.

      1. pleaset*

        Yeah, I said it was off-topic in part for those reasons. Though, if positioned correctly, concern over the child getting a better experience than the staff can offer could help with discussions with Joe.

        And frankly, insofar as the OP is watching the kid, this is not quite a mind-your-own-business situation.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I don’t see what’s wrong with judging someone for harming their kid through neglect, which is what Joe is doing. Children are people with needs, thoughts, and feelings of their own, not possessions.

        1. PVR*

          We literally do not know that the child is being harmed. We don’t know all the details here. It sounds like Joe’s property has enough acreage for an outbuilding. There may not be a ton of neighbors. There may not be a ton of childcare camps or options available. There may be valid reasons Joe was granted custody and not shared custody. We have so few details about the bigger picture that jumping to abuse seems hasty. And completely not helpful to OP.

      3. Avasarala*

        Gossiping and judging strangers is literally the purpose of a comments section on an advice column blog…

  7. irene adler*

    Is it possible that Joe doesn’t know how to go about finding child-care providers? Too busy, doesn’t know where to look, etc.? And there’s been no push back to his leaving the child with his reports, so why take the time to find child care?
    Maybe finding some contact info for child-care services would help him out (course, when the child is ill that’s not going to work)?

      1. Jen in Oregon*

        If Joe knows how to run a (presumably) successful business AND win 75% custody, he has the resources to go about finding child care providers. He’s choosing not to because the current situation is working out just fine for him.

        1. HRTripp*

          Not really, even if he had full time care you typically can’t leave your child at daycare when they are sick and finding last minute child care for a sick child is next to impossible.

          1. Sarah N.*

            It’s really not. We regularly use emergency back-up care when our daughter is sick and my husband and I can’t miss work. It’s expensive, because asking someone to watch a sick child at the last minute is going to be expensive. But this guy owns a business! He needs to suck it up and take care of his kid properly.

        2. Red Spider*

          I would not assume that. Most small business owners earn a pretty small salary for the first several years before the business becomes profitable and there are a lot of factors besides money that are taken into consideration for custody arrangements.

          1. Yorick*

            The point is that if he can manage the operations of a business, he can presumably google childcare options in his area.

          2. Autumnheart*

            So what? Finding appropriate childcare for your kid is literally every parent’s responsibility.

        3. Anonymous Me*

          I agree, Jen in Oregon. Staff hasn’t told them they are not comfortable with it and they are feeding the child so he’s not hungry, so Joe thinks he has found a great solution.

          I’m also with the folks who think keeping a 5 year old cooped up all summer long watching TV/iPad is…not good. Summer camps were a good option for me when my children were small. They got to do different activities and interact with other children.

          1. Clisby*

            Agreed. Even if it’s just half-day activities, this would be a big improvement over sitting around with an iPad every day. Sheesh, the kid needs to be out with some other children, not hanging around a bunch of adults in an office.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              I think the nature of the summer activities and amount/quality of interaction with other children is less relevant than the fact that the kid is being babysat by his dad’s office workers. (not to pull the autism card here, because even among autistic people this is dependent on the individual person, but there’s definitely children who would have a mental breakdown if they spent five days a week for the entire year having to socialize for 8+ hours)

              1. Clisby*

                I don’t recall anyone talking about the kid having to socialize for 8+ hours. Or even socialize every day. I think most 5-year-olds would benefit from being around other children for at least a half-day week here and there throughout a summer.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Eh, my experience with summer camps may have been very different from what people are assuming, but that’s usually how most of mine went, albeit for one month instead of the entire summer. If you’re doing back to back to back… it kind of does add up to that.

                  But, since summer camp actually means “no more than six hours for about a week” to everyone else, I’ll accept that I misunderstood here.

          2. WellRed*

            Yes, make it Joe’s problem. “Kid is hungry.” “Kid is bored.” “Kid just vomited.” “Kid just vomited again.”

            1. Name Required*

              Yes, this right here. Go out and find Joe every time his kid is complaining instead of solving the problem for Joe.

          3. Mama Bear*

            I agree. They need to talk to him about how this really isn’t working for the company/office. If the kid is in any kind of before/after care, there may be a summer extension of that. I wonder how recently he gained custody. I ask b/c when I first went to work FT after time home with my kid, that first summer we struggled with quality, affordable care. The subsequent summers I knew what to do and who to call (and who not to). Some childcare programs in schools are open to children who don’t attend there during the year. If it was his first summer with primary physical custody, he may have waited too long. Summer care needs to be found in January, not June.

        4. AnotherAlison*

          For the Joe defenders responding, I figured out how to find childcare as a 19 y.o. college student. I think Joe can do it.

          If Joe needs 5 people to run his business, it doesn’t sound like he’s in the not-making-money early stages. (For the type of business loosely described, run from home, outdoor work, etc.) If he’s running his business poorly on top of the childcare thing, well, then if I were the OP, I’d be searching for another job.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            If Joe needs 5 people to run his business, it doesn’t sound like he’s in the not-making-money early stages.

            Businesses with thousands of employees have gone belly-up. We have no idea what his P&L looks like it, and it does not help OP to speculate.

            1. Colette*

              Whether or not his business will ultimately be successful, childcare is his responsibility. He can cover it by calling a friend or relative, taking the day off himself, or finding a professional. He cannot (or should not) do it by getting his employees to cover for months on end.

              1. Sarah N.*

                This. There are a million different ways people deal with finding childcare. 99.9% percent of people don’t leave their kid with random coworkers for days on end, because they recognize that this is not an acceptable solution. Finding childcare is hard, and expensive, and inevitably creates many headaches, and yet every other parents manages to do it NOT THIS WAY.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              But we aren’t talking about businesses with thousands of people. We’re talking about an “outside” type of business that has 5 office staff to support and the owner works in the business doing labor. I may be reading too much into what the OP described this business to be, I’m intimately familiar with the small, family owned service business model, which gives me three thoughts:

              – A properly run service business that requires 5 office staff should be making money (as noted in my original comment). However, it’s troubling that Joe doesn’t have enough field staff to back him up with the labor.
              – It is true that if Joe runs his business like he is dealing with his son’s care, he may not be making money.
              – This speculation is worth the OP considering. She knows the circumstances of the business. If $10,000-$15,000 swing in his yearly expenses is going to be too much for Joe, then the OP should think about her job stability. If Joe doesn’t take on those expenses, then she should think if she wants to keep being the de facto baby sitter.

              1. valentine*

                Joe doesn’t have enough field staff to back him up with the labor.
                This isn’t necessarily true. Joe is doing what he wants to be doing: neglecting his kid and taking advantage of his employees.

            3. Rainy*

              Sure, but I also wouldn’t fucking care if I were OP. It’s not OP’s problem, because Louie isn’t OP’s kid.

        5. Jedi Squirrel*

          That is a huge assumption. I am fairly successful, but if I had to find child care for a five-year-old, I wouldn’t know how to go about it. How do you evaluate a child care service? I have no idea.

          You can hire consultants to help you run a business. (A good accountant is an invaluable asset.) You hire lawyers to win custody. He didn’t do those things on his own.

          1. somanyquestions*

            You’re likely not a parent, then, right? Or if you are someone else is doing it?

            If you’re a parent it’s your actual job to figure out how to do things like evaluate childcare. There’s plenty of resources out there, too. Saying it’s difficult is not an excuse to not do it, in any way. It’s his job to take care of this child. It’s actively harmful to a 5 year old to stick them in an office and make them watch an ipad for 8 hours a day all summer.

          2. MayLou*

            But he’s a parent. And he’s not suddenly just become a parent out of the blue – his child is five. He’s been a parent for at least five years. That’s five years during which time he’s had to adapt his life and figure out how to arrange childcare. Even if the split is recent, even if Louis’ mum did the vast majority of childcare and cognitive labour of arranging Louis’ life, this isn’t some sudden act of God that has landed brand new and terrifying and unusual responsibilities on Joe.

            And you can hire people to help you find suitable childcare: they’re called childcare agencies. I’m not denying that it’s tough to be a parent, or that childcare is expensive (although as a professional nanny let me tell you that childcare providers do not get paid enough, considering the importance of the job and the impact of good quality care – I earn more per hour as an administrator than I do as a nanny), but this isn’t one of those things that either you are able to do or you’re not. It isn’t like rolling your tongue or wiggling your ears. Joe can learn how to find good childcare by going out and finding some childcare. Not by waving his hands and saying “Oh well, I’m sure my bookkeeper and receptionist will just love to watch Louis and wipe his nose every ten seconds”.

            1. it's me*

              Not only is he a parent, he seemingly went out of his way to gain 75% of custody. Now he’s foisting the care off on his employees? Maybe the ex-wife is a real piece of work and the child would be truly worse off with her, but I’m not getting the vibe that Joe is super heroic and wasn’t just trying to stick it to her.

          3. Name Required*

            I find it difficult to believe that you’re fairly successful but have never solved a problem or researched new information before.

          4. EmKay*

            How do you think he found the consultants and lawyers he hired? Now apply that process to finding childcare.

        6. irene adler*

          Well, given he’s okay with parking the child in front of a movie for the entire work day, I’d say child care isn’t his priority. Hence, he may not be versed in how to find childcare services. It’s certainly not high on his list in importance.

        7. bluephone*

          Seriously, yes. And unlike the lawyer that helped him win that custody battle, a google search for “affordable or free childcare options near me” costs zero dollars.
          I have all the sympathy for Joe’s kid, and Joe’s employees, but honestly none for Joe right now. His ex and his ex’s lawyer *will* find out that this is Joe’s idea of “childcare/sharing custody” and they *will* drag him back into court over it *so* darn fast, even the demon from The Exorcist will go, “oh wow, that’s fast.”

    1. Whatever*

      Ugh. No one would assume a working mother didn’t know how to find child care or suggest young women that work for her should take on that responsibility despite it not being part of their job. Let’s give this guy the same expectations and options to act like a functioning adult.

      1. Another worker bee*

        +1. Upthread commenters are saying “I am successful but I wouldn’t know where to look”. Dude, how do you figure out LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE that you don’t know how to do for work/life? Google it, ask someone who knows, read up….

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I was just thinking that (and basically always think that when this kind of argument crops up regarding all manner of things) – none of us jump out of the womb knowing these things. Even if you have experience with something, you once did it for the first time and had to figure it out. (Possible exception being stuff you literally grew up with – I’ve known “proper phone etiquette” since I’ve been able to think because my mum had to make lots of calls all throughout my childhood, which I spent mostly at her side, for example.)

          When I was sixteen, I had no idea how to register for courses for my driving license, so I called the driving school and they explained it to me!
          When my mum had to go on welfare, she had no clue how to go about that, so she called the townhall and they told her how to get in contact with the right people!
          Earlier this year was the first time I used a moving service. I had no idea how something like that works, so I googled nearby ones and then called to asked about their process!
          My family has some clothes that need to be professionally cleaned, something we’ve never done before. So when we talked to our landcouple recently, they talked about a realiable laundry service they use, so we’ll look into that company as well!
          I could go on!

          And it’s so easy with the internet especially. But even if that isn’t at your disposal – you can ask around! You can call around! You can read a book! You can try stuff out! The possibilites are endless!

      2. AKchic*

        THANK YOU.

        I figured it out as a single mother of two at the age of 19. Joe can easily figure it out as a business owner with one school-aged child and 75% custody in this day of technology (a resource that wasn’t as user-friendly when I first started out).

        He is doing it this way because it is convenient for him and because there has been no push-back. At least one employee is worked about his volatile nature and how it will affect her/them if she/they push back. That’s not a “nice” boss. That is a boss who is using them for unpaid babysitting at best. Something that none of them actually signed up for, or even applied to do. On top of that, they are feeding him from their own budgets, so Joe is actually saving more money.

        Joe needs to figure out his home life. Yes, I understand work is on his home property, but that doesn’t mean he gets to use the office workers as free babysitting just because they are (I presume) women (and probably all young women).

        1. Helena*

          It’s not even like he HAD to figure out childcare – he fought, apparently bitterly, for 75% custody. Why do that, if you know you can’t provide it and have no intention of even trying?

          I’d feel differently if a series of nannies hadn’t worked out, or if Louis had additional needs (medical, behavioural, etc) that made childcare hard to find. But this guy has taken his child away from what was presumably a caring mother, to stick him in an office with an uninterested adult admin team.

          He sounds like the opposite of a good dad, he’s using the kid to get back at the mother, and isn’t thinking of the child’s needs at all.

          1. AKchic*

            I’m not going to question who was the better parent. Just not going to. That was the court’s decision right there and we’re not here to speculate. We’re here to deal with the work-related matters.

            The work-related matters being: a 5 year old child is being brought into the office for the “office girls” (and that’s how I think he thinks of them) to “keep an eye on” for free, while providing Jr. free snacks, all because the office is on his personal home property so his home and business life are badly blurred. At least one office staffer is concerned about pushing back due to his reportedly occasional “volatile” nature. Unfortunately, somebody *does* in fact need to confront this.

      3. Rachel Greep*

        Thank you! Single mothers figure it out, and lots of single fathers do too. Stop making excuses for Joe. I have child care and supports and resources, but you know what I do when my kid is sick and can’t go to the babysitter? I stay home with him.

      4. Mae*

        Popping in to also say thank you. My dad was single father in the late 70’s/early 80’s with 3 children and he figured it out.

      5. GradStudent*

        +1. I was just about to say this. These comments would not be as nice or understanding if Joe was Josephine.

      6. Lana Kane*

        Thank you. I had to figure childcare out on my own and I have yet to receive any awards for doing so.

    2. EnfysNest*

      Joe’s the one with a child. The OP is a grad student and not a parent. If Joe doesn’t know how to find child-care, why would any of his employees, who, unlike him, are not parents?

      I think the employees need to at least ask Joe to formalize everything about having the son in the office. If he intends babysitting to be part of their job, then they need to get it officially spelled out what that actually means – who is responsible for giving the kid snacks, what the official procedure is for the kid’s daily routine, what is the official procedure for emergencies, etc. If they don’t feel like they can refuse to do the babysitting duties, maybe by pressing Joe to make a formal, documented plan to add daycare to their work duties, they can make him see how much detail he has neglected to take care of and at least get him to acknowledge what’s actually happening. Best case scenario, he realizes through that process that he’s leaving too much responsibility for his son on his employees who aren’t trained for child care, but at a minimum, it will make him pay attention to a situation he’s ignoring and it will get clarity for the employees on what their actual responsibilities are regarding the son.

      Right now, it’s easy for Joe to leave the status quo – hopefully they can press back on that and at least make him truly address the logistics one way or another without necessarily saying an outright no.

      1. AllTheNope*

        This right here. Maybe one of the employees doesn’t mind legit childcare duties and will go point if they are made official. But they need to stop enabling this dudebro, not to mention training the kid to think this is a normal way to treat employees.

      1. Kelly*

        That learned helplessness mindset is passed down to the kid through his father’s actions. He’s not doing the kid any favors in the long run with his behavior.

        I have one male colleague who really plays up the learned helplessness when it suites him and it’s infuriating. He knows that our (female) boss will feel sorry for him and put pressure on me to cover for him when he fails to find coverage for our public service area. I took vacation earlier this fall and we were short staffed during that time because of his inability to get coverage. Now, were facing a similar situation before Thanksgiving, when I’ve asked for time off. I’m being pressured to give up time with my family, because evidently not having kids makes me less worthy to have time off during that time. I’ve made it very clear that I want the time off because I’m owed it for all the emotional labor that I’ve been forced to give to cover for him over the past several years. It’s become very one sided on my part with him whining the few times he has to cover for me.

  8. Bunny Girl*

    Did Joe mention that he would use you as a baby-sitter when you took the job? I would be absolute livid if I accepted a position, and then Oh by the way you’re watching my kid was tacked on there. I would probably quit the first time it happened.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Everything Alison said. But also, if you must continue to babysit, at least ask if he’ll stock some snacks for the poor kid. You and your coworkers should not be responsible for feeding him.

    1. Yvette*

      Yes, supply snacks, this at the very least. And books, maybe a laptop, there are tons of educational fun things on-line for a kid that age. Assuming that the situation won’t change, and Joe won’t go for day-camp or a sitter.

      1. Clisby*

        This doesn’t apply to when the child is sick, but IMO, somebody should really clue Joe in that this kid needs to be around other children during the summer. Not all day, every day – it’s good for children to learn how to entertain themselves. But parking a 5-year-old with an iPad for 3 months straight is a terrible idea – for the kid, not just for the employees who have to keep an eye on him. Joe really needs to be looking for at least some part-time organized activities – recreation departments, schools, churches, local museums, organizations like Scouts and 4-H, do things like this and they absolutely do not have to be terribly expensive. Here, the local newspaper always puts out a special insert on summer activities, but I know not every place will do that. Still, other parents can be a great way to find out what’s worked and what hasn’t.

        1. valentine*

          somebody should really clue Joe in that this kid needs to be around other children during the summer.
          I don’t think Joe is clueless, but his employees shouldn’t go down this silo.

      2. Starbuck*

        A five year old should definitely not be given a laptop with internet access without constant, direct supervision, which this kid is clearly not getting.

      3. Luna*

        I would back away from giving the kid a laptop. I consider 5 years old to be too young to be given a laptop for educational stuff. The good old book version should be fine, too.

    2. Adlib*

      I mean, yes, the babysitting is an overreach, but I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor when said kid vomited 5 times before Joe finally took him home. I mean…wtaf?

  10. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*


    I know that the question is primarily about the sick thing, but I also just feel so bad for the kid. Being sick as a small child is extra miserable, especially if you can’t be home in bed, and all day every day in an office over summer vacation is just so sad. I had a single mom who had to work crazy hours and I know finding affordable childcare is rooooooooough, but… there are options. Day camp through the local Y or the local parks programs in the summer, babysitters who can be called in if you truly can not miss work when your kid is sick, these are all things that CAN be found…

    1. Turtle Candle*

      I agree with you for summer–there are camps and similar things–but for illness, it’s often the case that there is no option. The overwhelming majority of day cares, day camps, and sleepaway camps will send kids home for anything more severe than very mild sniffles without fever (understandably; they don’t want to infect the other kids), and many babysitters won’t care for sick children either (often because they’re afraid, understandably, of what might happen if things take a turn for the worst). That isn’t an excuse for foisting kiddo off on the coworkers, but the options are slim and terrible, unfortunately. :/

  11. Laurelma*

    It would be huge turn off if my boss did that. I have had faculty members (university admin) bring in their children when they are sick and they expect the admin to watch them while they teach class. It got bad enough that I just started flat out refusing to do it, wasn’t in my job description. One faculty member got ugly with me, but they have to handle sick kids like other parents. One bought his daughter into his classroom, and she was throwing up during it. He should have just cancelled the class or ask a graduate student to handle the test, etc.

    It’s also a liability if the child gets injured, etc. I would be job searching after the first time or two. I’m surprised that 1/2 of you didn’t get what the child has, and cannot work for 1 – 2 days.

    1. Reliquary*

      Good for you for refusing. I’ve been in academia for over 20 years, and while none of my colleagues anywhere I’ve worked have ever pulled this nonsense, I heard about it happening once at one university where I worked many, many years ago. A certain faculty member came in with their sick child, and actually expected their department’s administrative assistant to babysit the child when they were in class. Their administrative assistant was rightfully appalled and refused. The child was pawned off on a hapless pair of graduate students who were too afraid to refuse.
      That story circulated, and eventually the faculty member was seriously told off by their chair. (The chair was the direct supervisor of the administrative assistant.) The grad students got an education from the chair as well — about their rights as grad students, and as employees of the university.

      1. 1 Potato 2 Potato 3 Potato 4*

        Kudos for the chair for telling off the faculty member and teaching the grad students what their rights were.

  12. But There is a Me in Team*

    So…. he fought tooth and nail for 75% custody so he can dump the kid off with free, not licensed, “day care”, in front of a movie all summer? I mean, I get that almost all parents use day care at some point but this is different and feels icky. Poor kiddo!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t see the point of this comment.

      Lots of people just “dump their kids” off at a relatives house that also just “dump” the kid in front of a tv or let them run around doing whatever they want.

      A licensed daycare isn’t always going to provide much more than a place to “dump” your kid either. With “licensed” people who are still often caught neglecting kids on their rosters.

    2. pleaset*

      “he fought tooth and nail for 75% custody”

      In his defense, we don’t know if he fought for this and it’s possible being with the spouse would be even worse for the child.

      Not condoning what he’s doing.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, what he’s doing is 100% dickish, but it’s kind of iffy to assume that if a man has 75% custody he ‘fought tooth and nail’ for it–it assumes that children always belong with the mother, which is sexist in its own way (I don’t mean in an MRA way; I mean in the assumption that women are more suited to childcare than men are).

        1. Morning Glory*

          I think that stems from the LW saying the custody battle was contentious, not a gender-based assumption.

    3. ABK*

      Parents work, that’s literally how they provide for their children. It’s not realistic to think that he fought tooth and nail for custody so he could stay home with him all day. Women struggle with this all the time, damned if you work (neglecting your child! dumping them off at daycare!), damned if you don’t (relying on child support and other subsidies to support your family). He does need to find a better daycare solution, but this isn’t different or icky.

    4. A*

      So, I’m not a huge fan of it either but… I guess I’m kind of missing the point of this comment. Obviously it’s not reasonable/realistic to expect someone – let alone a single parent – to quit their job for the summer. And I don’t really see how dropping the child off at day care, or a relative’s place, would address the perceived issues you’re noting here.

      Would you look at it through this lens if it was a single mother who has their family watch the child five days a week while they go to work? Does that mean she shouldn’t have ‘fought’ for custody?

      1. Another worker bee*

        I think the point is – Dad is neglecting his kid and he has set up a situation that does not provide a child with proper stimulation, socialization, etc and exploits his employees, to boot. Everyone I know with kids in daycare would remove their kid from that daycare in a heartbeat if it was 8hrs a day of watching TV on an iPad with no interaction with other children. It’s not that someone else is watching him, it’s that he doesn’t have proper childcare at all.

      2. Luna*

        I didn’t make the original comment, but I have to say I would say the same thing, if this was a woman that is using her employees/coworkers and/or family as free babysitters.
        There are ways to deal with having kids/sick kids while you work. And they aren’t too expensive.

        I was mostly raised by my mom from an early age onward. She found ways to work full-time, without leaving me alone all the time or strapped in at her work watching TV. She found an after-school place, that was actually right next to my school, that I could go to after school for majority of the afternoon. I would have lunch there, some playtime, get help with homework, etc, before it was early evening and I walked home, and my mom was home from work about an hour after I arrived myself. (This is Germany, where my home was in walking distance, and it was okay for kids to walk to or from school)

        For summers, I was sent two a summer camp for about two weeks. (Granted, summer vacation in Germany is shorter than American) Rest of the time, my after-school place specifically had a summer plan for kids with working parents. It was half-day, again with lunch provided, and other kids and playing and stuff.

        I’m pretty sure that was nowhere near as expensive to my full-time working mother as a legal assistant than it would be to a guy like this, who owns is own business.

      3. Helena*

        It’s the fact that there is a presumably caring mother out there, who apparently wanted to spend more time with her child (since it was a bitter custody battle). And instead of more time with mom, this kid gets 8hrs a day with an iPad.

        Now maybe the mom was an abusive crack whore, who knows. But assuming not, as she still has 25% custody, this custody split does not seem to be working in the best interests of Louie at the moment.

        1. Grapey*

          In my experience “bitter custody battles” are used as power plays to F over one’s ex than actual concern for the child.

    5. Budgie Buddy*

      Yeah, I wondered this as well. It does seem like he fought for custody based on the letter, but he may not be able to provide for the child’s needs. (whether that’s actual day care or, caring for him while he’s sick, or anther option like an au pair.) Of course the other parent may be even less able to care for the son. Either way seems like a really bad situation.

    6. doreen*

      I’m not at all saying that Joe is right to be doing what he’s doing , because he’s not – but I’m not clear why so many comments refer to the employees being unlicensed/untrained . Lots of people get childcare from unlicensed/untrained people like relatives,friends and neighbors or even nannies/babysitters that work for a specific family at the families home – and as far as I can tell, in my state none of those are required to have licenses/training. Is that icky too?

      What Joe is doing is wrong because he expects people he hired to perform other tasks to also take care of Louie. And because Joe expects them to perform those other tasks, Louie is spending the summer in front of a screen. But there wouldn’t anything wrong, in my opinion if Joe hired some other student or one of Louie’s classmates parents specifically to take care of Louie in the summer .

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        As I’m reading this, I’m wondering if there are any small-business owners reading this and realizing that no, it’s not OK to dump their childcare on their accountant, office manager, janitor, graphic artist, etc., as a result, or if they’re thinking the comments are way off base and “when you work for me, you do whatever I say, including minding my children.”

        Years ago I saw an episode of SuperNanny with parents who ran a restaurant and brought their 2 or 3 kids to the establishment and turned them loose to run through the dining room, disrupting the customers’ experience, and expecting the cooks and wait staff to watch the kids. As part of the episode the employees as a group spoke up about the problems with the kids and the fact that they weren’t there as sitters, and also their reluctance to speak out before because they feared for their jobs.

  13. Not a Blossom*

    Although the OP says Joe is nice, she also says he can be volatile, which is why I think she’s worried about retaliation. She may also fear that he will, say, cut benefits to pay for childcare. I think this is definitely a situation in which all of the employees need to band together. At least that way if he doesn’t take it well, a single person isn’t bearing all of the ramifications of speaking up.

    1. Len F*

      I must say, “in general, a kind, understanding person” combined with “He can occasionally be volatile” sounds like a red flag. Kind people are not occasionally volatile.

  14. Lime Lehmer*

    In the summer — and when he’s too sick to go to school — dad sets him up in front of a movie all workday long, in the office with the rest of us.

    In the summer seems to indicate that Dad is not making summer plans for his son, and this is not good for either the child or the employees.

    Dad needs to find some summer camps.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This is a good suggestion, if there are any in the area. Day camps are usually great experiences for kids.

    2. remizidae*

      I have to disagree with some of this. There are probably better options for this kid, but summer camps are not at all required for good parenting. They are super expensive, and most of us grew up without them–playing outside, reading, hanging out with relatives and friends–just fine.

      1. Colette*

        But this child is not do anything like that – summer camps are certainly better than sitting in an office watching TV all day.

      2. Antilles*

        I don’t think Lime meant that summer camps were “required” for good parenting, just that it’s a nice way to get the boy around kids of his own age, with people paid to watch him…rather than being stuck staring at a TV screen alone with adults who have other duties to attend to.
        As for the last part, you’re assuming that there are relatives and friends available to watch the kid, which…may or may not be true for a single father and business owner.

      3. Yorick*

        In this case, summer day camps are probably the answer. I’m guessing there’s not an obvious relative to watch the kid, or they’d already be watching him, and having a 5 year old run outside with no parents around isn’t better than having him watch tv near the employees.

      4. Washi*

        I did not grow up going to summer camp…because my mom was home to watch me. This child is 5, he can’t have a free roaming summer experience without an adult at home.

      5. Clisby*

        Summer day camps aren’t necessarily expensive at all – but you’re right they’re not required. In this case, the 5-year-old can’t just play outside alone, and there aren’t any relatives/friends on site. Well, his father is on site, but presumably he’s working. Sheesh, it wouldn’t cost much at all to put the kid in a couple of half-day recreation department camps, or church camps, or whatever you like that gets the child out among other children his age and provides adequate supervision.

      6. Parenthetically*

        Lime said that the problem is that “Dad is not making summer plans for his son”. Of course summer camps aren’t required for good parenting, but whatever your definition of good parenting IS, it’s DEFINITELY not parking a 5-year-old in front of a TV for 8 hours a day, three months of the year.

    3. A*

      In general, I agree – but not in regards to addressing the issue of when the child is sick. Unless it’s a sleep away camp, you’ll face similar restrictions as day care centers. You’ll be required to come pick your child up if you send them to day camp when they are obviously ill.

    4. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Yes. For someone who fought so hard for custody, Joe didn’t seem to take into account that he’d have a child to, you know, care for and bring up when he won.

  15. Not Australian*

    My question, on the basis that Joe has charge of the child 75% of the time, is who deals with the other 25% – and does (she?) know what Joe is doing with their sick child while he’s working outside? It may indeed be that childcare is expensive, but it’s also a shared responsibility – and it sounds as if Joe is making some pretty flawed decisions about it which his child’s other parent might well not be a party to. This isn’t the OP’s problem to solve, of course, but it adds another level of ‘nope!’ to the situation; Joe, his child, and his staff are not the only parties involved.

    1. One Potato Two Potato Three Potato Four*

      Yes, Joe is capable of making his own childcare plans and it shouldn’t be up to the workers to solve his issues for him. Women are expected to solve mens problems all the time and it needs to stop.

  16. One Potato Two Potato Three Potato Four*

    Besides expecting his staff to serve as babysitters for his son (which is horrible) I definitely think this is okay in his mind because (as I suspect) the workers are all women and young at that. I bet he wouldn’t be leaving his son with a bunch of male office workers.

    1. pope suburban*

      Yes, I’ll admit to being wildly curious about the demographics in this situation. It does seem to smack of the whole, “You can plan all the office parties, because you’re a lady and therefor love that/are inherently good at it.”

  17. What's with Today, today?*

    I’m not sure there is much you can do here. I’ve worked for a family business for 15 years, (radio station) and in my experience, this is pretty much par for the course. The boss’ kids are teens now, but we always had both of his boys running around during the summer, school breaks and during illness. Not only the boss could do this though, a former coworker had his daughter six weeks every summer and she was always up here too (we even had an elementary school romance one summer). Really though, no one hesitates in my office to bring the kids up when needed. If a kid is sick they just get set up in an office with a tablet, but if they aren’t ill, they kind of run around. To be honest, I got my start in radio the same way…Dad was in the business and I used to get off the school bus and run around the radio station and I got hooked.

  18. Agent Diane*

    OP mentions the custody battle was bruising but now it seems Dad doesn’t want to do some of the duties of having custody. He needs to realise that having Louie around means taking care of him when he is around, not just dumping him on his employees.

    Also, I’m concerned whether there’s a gender dynamic at play. Are most of the office workers female? Because if so he’s treating y’all as babysitters.

    I’d also be concerned that when he does start having employees with children he will not be flexible if they need time off to care for a sick child. He managed to work whilst ‘caring’ for a sick child just fine so why can’t Diane?

    1. cncx*

      that was my thought, how does someone fight for custody then not actually do the work that having custody entails?

  19. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Ah this old setup. It’s not that uncommon when there’s a working owner involved and they have a kid of that age range, especially when you’ve fallen into the trap of working somewhere that they have an office on the same property as their house.

    I would approach this with Junior in mind and his comfort as the lead in. “He’s so miserable being stuck out here with us. And it’s also distracting because I find myself worrying about Joey, I can’t concentrate on my work when he’s coughing and sneezing and clearly in distress.” Insert some innocent Puss N Boots eyes if you’re able to muster them up.

    Does he have a history of firing people even? Everyone I’ve had in that situation would possibly mutter and be annoyed by being asked to change their ways but they wouldn’t fire you because they are fully aware how hard it is to get someone in there, trained and to stay put. So it’s not necessarily that they have you over the barrel by any means. Unless they’re the sorts to try their luck with replacing people left and right over this kind of reasonable issue that is brought to their attention.

    1. banzo_bean*

      The only issue I see with addressing this with Junior in mind is it softens OP’s actual complaint, and as a result gives room for her boss to reject her request.

      “Junior is so miserable and I’m distracted.”

      “oh I’ll tell him not to whine anymore and talk less”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The thing is that it’s a balancing act in the end.

        This is one of those setups where there’s more dancing involved and not stepping directly on toes. Unlike a bigger setup where your boss has someone else to answer to in the end. So it’s better to keep it soft and open to some kind of interpretation.

        It’s unfortunate for the OP in the end and this is one of the few times I’ll be willing to say this is a small-business thing that you have to take into consideration before accepting that life. I don’t blame people who don’t want to deal with it that’s for sure but it’s easier to approach from the side where they can see you coming instead of trying to bring it to Jesus and pray that he’s being his reasonable self that day instead of the slightly volatile self that’s been mentioned here.

        1. banzo_bean*

          Oh I agree, I just might not lead in with it, but use it to soften the blow at the end.

          “When Junior is sick I can’t concentrate on my work, and it’s really distracting. Also he seems miserable as well.”

          I think you really want to get the point across that him being sick in the office is the problem- and the kid being upset is a supporting feature to your argument.

        2. Fish Microwaver*

          It’s not just a small business thing. A previous manager in a state gov job used to frequently bring her daughter to work. It wasn’t so bad when she was parked in her office, although daughter would get bored and come out into the work area (call centre type set up) and try to talk to us while we were working. The boss could have and occasionally did work from home.
          One particularly egregious time was when the daughter was in the office every day for two weeks of school vacation. The kid would play her devices loudly, try to talk to us, lie on the floor in the limited walking space and set up “jumps” around the office to play equestrian. The boss became very annoyed if we asked her to quieten the kid down and took the view that being in the office allowed the kid to decompress. We were so happy when school resumed.

  20. Lady Heather*

    Heh – just imagining the five of you saying ‘please warn us beforehand if there is going to be a sick person in our office, so that we can work from home that day so we don’t get sick.’

    That’d be probably passive-agressive, and a generally stupid move in general – so don’t take it as advice.

    1. Joielle*

      Maybe not in those exact words, but I think OP could at least start asking to work from home when the kid shows up sick. “Boss, it looks like Joey has a bad cough today – I’m going to work this afternoon from home, ok? I’m really trying to avoid getting sick.” If OP has (or can conjure a white lie about) an elderly or immunocompromised friend or relative, that would help drive the point home.

      OP says there’s a generous work from home policy, so it might be a reasonable ask. And might get boss to think about the consequences of bringing his sick kid to work.

  21. Person from the Resume*

    Honestly since no one including the LW has pushed back on the childcare (yet) during the summer thing it really seems to me that this has become other additional duties as assigned. It’s a small business and small office. Part of the duties split among the 5 people in the office is to be to minimally watch the boss’s kid as he sits there watching movies all day long. The LW isn’t even objecting to that part.

    I think she needs to push back with her co-workers as a group with watching the kid when he’s sick or not push back at all. The office manager or equivalent needs (hopefully on a good footing with Joe) call up the boss and say “Mr Joe, Louie is sick and needs to be at home.” Obviously this is a terrible situation for Louie as he’s ignored and unstimulated all day long all summer long, but this is Joe’s childcare plan and you and your 4 co-workers have accepted this reality up to now. If you want to stop I think you need the backing of your coworkers.

  22. Arctic*

    Ugh, I cringe so hard whenever I read letter like this because my dad used to do this. He managed a bar/function hall. And we’d spend most of the summer and sick days at his work watching the TV he had in a small function room and drinking shirley temples.

    No one was assigned to watch us and we were super quiet but we definitely did bother people for drinks or snacks or whatever.

    It’s embarrassing to think of now. But it’s not like I could change it, at the time either. Joe even kind of sounds like my dad. Really nice and generous guy but volatile.

    Knowing how my dad would respond I think you need to do it as a group for sure. Don’t let him single one person out as the bad guy.

    1. hbc*

      If it makes you feel better, I think this is more common than a lot of us want to believe, whether it’s an owner/boss boring the kid at a small business, a kid being dumped with a relative who doesn’t bother to entertain anyone, or an older sibling wrangled into a forced care situation.

      1. LJay*

        Yeah my parents had childcare for me, but my dad and mom wound up bringing me to work sometime. They both worked in the same restaurant. So they would sit me in a booth with some of the crayons and kids placemats while the restaurant was open, and serve me Shirley Temples etc when they weren’t busy. Then before the place opened or after it closed I would help put out ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers and things like that.

        They were doing the best they could, and I wasn’t scarred for life or anything from the experience.

    2. MeTwoToo*

      I think most parents run into this at least sometimes. We were in college when we had out son, but sometimes I had to take him to class. Sometimes my husband had to take him to class. We did the best we could. It happens. On a lighter note, once my husband had the baby in a large science lecture class. I was downstairs in a lab class. He showed up with a fussy baby and asked if I could keep him since it was noisy (and non-hazardous!) in my lab anyway. My professor was fine with it, but apparently his professor stopped the lecture completely when my husband returned to class, to ask what he had done with the baby!

  23. Mathilde*

    About the snacks… just stop providing them for the kid. He’ll go hungry for a few hours and when your boss comes back, you can act clueless and say that you didn’t anticipate having to provide food for a kid.

    If the father is not going to provide them, it is not up to you to pick up the slack. And if you continue to pick up the slack, the father is never going to bring them.

    I would act that way about everything childcare related. Just don’t take care of the kid.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is way easier said then done.

      Most people aren’t going to deny a child food and try to use that to get a parent to figure it out themselves. If a five year old asks me for food and I know them enough to know that 1. Their parents don’t care. 2. They’re not allergic, I’m going to give them food that I have available.

      Also he probably knows where they hide their snacks, so he just comes over and pops a hand in a drawer. Yeah, it’s not ideal but suddenly trying to make a “point” aimed at his dad by punishing the kid is pretty awful. The kid shouldn’t be caught in the crosshairs like that, it’s unfair to a person who is tiny and dependent on adults.

      That kind of behavior is more likely to get you fired then speaking up and saying that you’re uncomfortable with the babysitting you just found yourself in. You look unreasonable and petty to the person, you want to stay likeable if you do want to keep the job in this situation.

      1. boop the first*

        Pretty much everything is easier said than done. That doesn’t mean things shouldn’t be done when they’re not easy. So what if the boss steals snacks from the staff? Okay… but what if he doesn’t?

        They wouldn’t be denying a child food. The child can go outside to his dad and tell him he’s hungry. An employee can call up the boss whenever his child needs something. It’s possible that he’s actually outside marveling at how easygoing his kid has been all summer, expecting to be bothered frequently and just… not.

        1. Mathilde*

          And the father apparently forgot that kids need to it ? For a whole summer ? That would be a new level of cluelessness…

          I am pretty sure the dad is just milking for as long as he can.

      2. Mathilde*

        Fired ? I don’t think so. You just don’t have any more snacks on you, and no money to bring more. This is actually pretty mundane. I never have cash on me at work, for instance. The only snacks I have are coffee and tea, and some Tic Tacs.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          How many personally owned, owner/operated businesses have you worked for?

          I’ve seen people fired for a whole lot less.

          1. Mathilde*

            Several actually. And not all of them were healthy. But MY experience has nothing to do with it.

            You might have, yes. But it certainly wouldn’t be the norm. The OP could be fired for wearing green one day : it is in the realm of possibilities. I don’t think this is a good thing to suggest that she is powerless because her boss might a power-hungry tyrant. All we know is that he is caring but volatile.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          If you never had snacks on you, then this is moot anyways.

          The thing is they started something. That’s a different ball of wax

      3. Jamie*

        This. A kid is hungry and I know his parent is okay with him eating what I have…I’m feeding that kid.

        He’s five. I’m not going to make a child suffer to prove a point.

      4. Colette*

        Kids generally don’t need snacks, though. I see nothing wrong with just … not offering, or kindly saying “Oh, I just have enough for me. Did your dad give you any?”

    2. Red Spider*

      Letting a 5 year old go hungry is pretty cruel regardless of the circumstances and acting clueless is going to be very weird since OP and coworkers have already been doing that.

      1. Mathilde*

        It might be weird, yes. But since the dad forgets to prepare food for his kid, I don’t see why it would be weirder that his employees have forgotten the kid’s snacks. They can decide that they don’t bring snacks to work now.

        Cruel ? No, not really. No more than a father who doesn’t pack lunch for a child.
        If a parent doesn’t pack food for a field trip, the school doesn’t provide one. This is not cruelty, this is just common sense – and they are taking care of kids. We shouldn’t force employees to carry a higher moral burden than the father.

        1. Mimosa Jones*

          It is cruel, because the child has no way of understanding the dynamics of what’s going on. They used to getting a snack and now they don’t and they’re hungry right now. And they’ll be loud and whiny about it too. The employees will get even less work done and someone will finally cave and then you’ve taught the child that whining works. It’s an unfair situation for the employees right now, but this solution punishes the child for the father’s neglect. A better solution is to speak up about getting reimbursed for snacks and being able to buy them during work time. That might clue-in the father and he’ll come up with his own solution, but as a fall-back the OP and her coworkers won’t be paying for the snacks out of their own pocket.

          1. Colette*

            First of all, there is no indication that the kid is hungry – just that he’d like a snack (and possibly that he’d like a snack because he sees an employee having one). But the OP can instead call the father, or ask the child what snacks he brought to eat, or otherwise say no. One of the OP’s coworkers might cave – and that’s fine. As long as the OP is always consistent, the child will learn that the OP will not supply snacks.

            As far as the employees getting less work done, that’s not a terrible consequence for the business owner who is neglecting his child.

      2. Colette*

        We’re not talking about denying the kid a meal, just snacks. Assuming the dad is feeding him regularly, he’ll be fine.

      3. Dahlia*

        A 5 year old is not going to starve because they don’t have a morning granola bar.

        “Sorry, I ran out!” is something a 5 year old can understand, especially if followed by “Go ask your dad.”

        Why do y’all think OP and the other workers should be an endless snack fount?

        1. Koala dreams*

          Since the dad didn’t provide snacks, he presumably didn’t want his child to snack between meals. If the child is starving, it’s time to have a serious talk with the dad, and maybe call the social service too. If it’s just about extra snacks, it’s fine to stop buying it.

      4. blink14*

        Agreed. When I was in first grade, I was dropped off at a babysitter’s house with a few other kids in the afternoon after school, for a few hours while my parents finished up work. The woman gave every other child a snack, but not me, and this went on for a few weeks until I told my parents. My mom confronted the woman, who said she needed more money to provide snacks. My mom rolled her eyes but paid her more to make sure I had an after school snack – which she could’ve packed in my school bag for me regardless, but recognized that I was being purposely left out and wanted to make the woman right that.

        Nearly 30 years later, I remember the terrible feeling to this day of watching the other kids get a snack. It wasn’t so much about hunger, it was about being ignored.

        1. blink14*

          To clarify – this is about the child being ignored by his father and being put into a weird situation. It is out of kindness that the OP and their co-workers give the kid snacks, who isn’t in the situation by his own doing, and is reacting as a five year old would.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          That’s terrible but not exactly the same thing. The people in the office are being paid to work, not babysit and provide snacks for the owner’s child. He will not “go hungry” unless his dad isn’t feeding him at all.

    3. Mathilde*

      The FATHER is the one letting his kid go hungry. He is the one not providing food, and suddenly the employees who decide not to pick up th slack anymore are the ones who are heartless is they don’t prepare ?

      I am sorry, but no. I am not suggesting that they should let him starve for days, but a few hours is not going to kill him.

      What is certain is that as long as they keep providing childare, the father is not going to feel compelled to do anything.

      1. Red Spider*

        Yes, the father is not picking up the slack, but are you really suggesting that the right solution is to deny the child food and pretend that food was never provided? Why not be an adult about it and ask the father to bring in some stacks when he brings in the kid? Denying a 5 year old child food for even a for hours if you have food available is horrible behavior. I could never bring myself to do that.

        1. Stardust*

          I’m with you on asking the father to bring in some snacks but goodness, no one is suggesting to let the kid starve to death. It’s totally fine to tell him that no you don’t have any chocolate bars, he’ll have to ask his father for some.

          1. Red Spider*

            Yes, he will probably be physically fine (no one said anything about starving to death) But he’s not going to understand why the previously provided snacks have disappeared. He’s already sick and probably doesn’t particularly enjoying being in an office all day. Why make his day even worse? It’s an unnecessarily shitty way to treat such a young child.

            1. Jamie*

              I agree. And I certainly didn’t picture candy bars when discussing snacks. Kids that age tend to eat smaller amounts throughout the day. Kindergartens do snacks mid session so they aren’t going from breakfast to lunch or lunch to dinner without healthy snacks.

              And yeah, no one is saying it will affect his overall nutrition, just that it’s a crappy way to treat a kid who is already being treated like an afterthought by being stuck in front of a screen all day. Why make his life worse by denying him snacks?

              (Fwiw the dad should absolutely be providing the food, and if he won’t buy it if I were an employee there I’d stock up on ome fruit, string cheese, and gogurts and submit to petty cash for reimbursement.)

              1. LJay*

                I mean, they are in the house the the father and the kid live in.

                Presumably there is food in the house. (If not that’s another issue).

                Call dad inside and tell him the kid is hungry, and make it his problem.

        2. Name Required*

          You know what’s horrible behavior? Leaving your five year old kid in an office without food, water or intentional supervision. Let’s not shift focus off who the real villain is here: this negligent father.

          1. Red Spider*

            I’m not defending the father in this situation. I’m just saying that some of the advice here punishes the child for the father’s shortcomings, which is unnecessary, cruel and does nothing to solve the problem.

          2. LawBee*

            ok, it’s not like the dad is locking the kid in an empty room. It’s not a great situation, but he’s not starving the child.

    4. banzo_bean*

      I feel like the snack problem could probably be easily remedied by talking to the boss and saying “Junior always gets hungry, and I give him my snacks. Could we get some snacks from CostCo to stash in the office for him?” I’m sure if Boss heard Junior was hungry he’d run and get food from the house. He just probably doesn’t think about keeping food accessible when he’s not there, since he seems to not think about Junior’s care when he’s not there.

      The bigger issue is that if you ask this, you’re sort of accepting responsibility for watching Junior and acknowledging the arrangement. Which I think OP is attempting to avoid.

      1. blackcat*

        I would not say “could WE.” Make sure it’s “Can you…..?” LW doesn’t want it to fall to them to buy snacks regularly.

    5. LawBee*

      I’m with you in spirit – stop providing the snacks for the kid makes sense to me.

      Where you lose me is making the kindergartener the vehicle for informing the father that there will be no more staff-purchased snacks. A couple of hours won’t kill him, true, but also – he’s 5. Trust me, having a 5 year old say “Daddy, the mean people at your office won’t feed me and I’m hungry” isn’t going to go well for anyone. Also, it’s not fair to put that burden on a small child who won’t understand what’s going on. They can be adults and tell the father ahead of time so he can prepare.

  24. Malarkey01*

    I hate to be a cynic, but I don’t think the boss is going to change and I’d fully expect him to change and I’d fully expect him to co to use to bring his kid into the office (and it SUCKS but many many small business owners bring their kids and dump them in the store/restaurant/office and I e never seen them change based on an employee complaint.)

    I think realistically the LW needs to decide to either ignore the kid in the corner or start looking for another job. The power imbalance seems so bad because in this one area there is nothing that compels the owner to change (unless losing employees makes child care worth it).

    1. banzo_bean*

      Speaking as someone who is also currently in grad school and working, it can be really hard to find a job that will work with your school schedule/needs while you’re in grad school. Plus learning a new job/job hunting on top of an already PACKED schedule is almost impossible to imagine. I’d try to fix the situtation before leaving if it’s working otherwise.

      1. Malarkey01*

        Oh I totally understand, finding a new job is one of the worst things out there. I just wanted to put out there that ignoring the situation might be all the LW is able to do, and if that’s hard for them they don’t have much recourse. Maybe I’m just really jaded but anytime I’ve seen a small business that an owner treats as an extension of their home/family the reaction to telling them that they need to change has been to tell you that they are the owner and you either take it or leave it. I’m not defending it, just sharing my experience.

        1. banzo_bean*

          Yeah, I get that things might not change, but I get the added incentive to try and foster change in this situation given OP’s school situation. Getting sick for me means I’m missing 2 fulltime workloads, so I’d probably be willing to bring it up rather than ignore it.

  25. KoiFeeder*

    What if the other parent were to show up in the office? If you’re not childcare providers, I don’t know if it’s possible to refuse to hand the child over even if Joe told you not to do so. I don’t know how likely this is or anything, so maybe I’m catastrophizing, but the idea of getting caught between a kidnapping charge and losing your job is… unappealing.

    1. Yorick*

      There would not be a kidnapping charge against the employees unless they actually kidnapped the child.

      1. valentine*

        What if the other parent were to show up in the office?
        You summon Joe, who is on the property.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. It’s the same as if Joe had a real babysitter staying there with the kid and the ex showed up. The ex can’t just decide to take custody, when it’s not their time. It’s not the babysitter or the adults around the minor that are going to get in trouble for kidnapping.

      The response is to say “I’ll call the cops and they can sort this out for us.” if someone comes by asking to take a kid. It’s not kidnapping to say “you aren’t authorized to take this minor child that their father put in our care.” You don’t have to have a license. No grandparents or neighborhood kid who babysits sometimes has a license.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        That’s good to know. Hopefully it’s not information I’ll ever have to use, but at least I’ve learned it.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah I promise you that catching a case for kidnapping takes a whole lot more!

          You don’t have to worry about this as much if you also think about it in terms of the fact that parents let their kids go a lot of places with family members or friends. Think about a child being dropped off for a sleep over. If Mom showed up there and tried to pick up Junior, you still go “Uh Joe never told me you’d be picking him up. I need to call Joe first to confirm.” Then if she just snatches the kid or says you’re kidnapping her kid, you call the cops and then Joe in that order. You do NOT ever just fork the kid over for their own safety and you aren’t going to get into trouble for it if you go ahead and involve the cops when you’re in doubt. They’ll come do the dirty work.

          Parents without full custody can be guilty of kidnapping and it happens all the time. Mom comes to pick up the kid from a place and claim it’s been okayed by Dad.

  26. Mae*

    Does the boss actually ask or instruct OP and the others to watch the child or is this some unspoken rule? How about when the child says they are hungry, calling the Dad and telling him the child needs food? I don’t want suggest just flat out ignoring the child because that seems cruel, but push the parenting back on Joe- your son is hungry, your son needs medicine, your son needs whatever.

    Joe needs to try to build a support system that does not rely on his employees to be responsible for his child when he’s sick or on summer break. I find it hard to believe that a man who was married, had a child and runs a business has no idea on how to find childcare. He could ask other parents for recommendations, possible if he has family members with children how they handle it, etc. There are many single fathers who are able to care or arrange for care for a sick child and care for summer/school breaks. My father was single father with 3 children and he did it back in the 70’s/80’s when single fatherhood was much less common.

    1. valentine*

      push the parenting back on Joe- your son is hungry, your son needs medicine, your son needs whatever.
      Yes. Louie can phone his dad when he needs something. (Hopefully, he has his own phone and can text, though. Or Joe can install a light outside and Louie can press a button to summon him.

        1. Media Monkey*

          a fair chunk of 5 year olds can’t read. are they communicating in emojis? (actually i reckon my 11 year old could probably do this)

  27. WasabiMom*

    When I was pregnant I contacted the department of family services to get a list of licensed inspected childcare providers. I paid $20 for it, but they charged on a sliding scale. When my normal summer programs raised their costs, I called the YMCA, also on a sliding scale

  28. !*

    Yeah, this would not fly with me at all. I am child-free by choice, so I certainly don’t want to be looking out for someone else’s kid (especially at work when I’m supposed to be doing what I’m being paid for). I think the group of you need to discuss this with your boss. The kid is there all summer and when he’s sick (instead of being at home in bed being TAKEN CARE of by his father), that’s a big HELL no from me. I actually feel bad for this kid, and if the father has the majority of custody, I can only imagine his mom being a worse caregiver.

    1. valentine*

      I can only imagine his mom being a worse caregiver.
      It could be as simple as the home business meaning Joe has always, on paper, spent more time responsible for Louie. I doubt anyone is getting into details like how Louie actually spends his time, or I’d expect the letter to include how Joe asked OP et al. to write letters to the judge about it.

  29. Lee*

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot a flack for this, but would you be willing to tell your boss that you’re actually willing to be the babysitter and watch the kid in the house where he will be most comformtable and won’t expose others to germs? I don’t suggest that you offer to be a permanent babysitter whenever the kid is sick, but maybe its worth it on an ad hoc basis just to solve the problem in front of you. As long as he doesn’t try any weird pay adjustment b/c today you’re babysitting and not doing regular job or expecting you to still do regular job, it might be an option.

    1. Mae*

      I disagree. OP says they are a grad student in addition to working there and can’t really afford to be sick. If she babysits/cares for Louie when he’s sick, there’s a strong possibly she will end up sick. Then she is missing school, work and if Louie is still sick, he’s stuck back in the office with other employees.

      Joe needs to build a support system to help when is Louie is sick or on school break. If he doesn’t have family who could help, he can ask other parents, maybe check message boards at school or, like another commenter, call the local Health Dept and see if they have any listings.

    2. Semprini!*

      I was kind of thinking that. What if one of the employees was the designated babysitter, and hung out in Joe’s house with the kid (working or not, depending on the kid’s needs) so the others could get work done and avoid having sick kid germs spread around the office?

      This is obviously a very flawed idea for many reasons, but if Joe proves resistant to actually solving the problem, it might be the least worst option.

    3. Blueberry*

      I almost wish I worked there, because I would totally volunteer to officially babysit Louie half my workday (well, not volunteer, I’d negotiate a raise for it) to take the un-agreed-to burden off my coworkers. But that’s in part because this isn’t a viable long term situation, and I would make that offer as I am now, not as I was when I was both working and in school. (Also, I like kids. Which is another thing not everyone does and which shouldn’t be assumed of everyone/everyone female.) If one of LW’s coworkers were amenable to this idea they probably would have suggested it to Joe by now.

  30. Been there!!*

    Just a note to say that I have been in this situation, in what sound like the same field with a lives-on-site boss! Not only were the older ones with us, but then when they were babies they’d come to meetings and nurse, mid-meeting. We had an intervention and it was not taken well, unfortunately. It was a long road of defining workplace culture, expectations, and practicing communicating needs from both sides.

    10 years later, I look back on that as a really valuable experience for me, learning to identify what I need in a workplace and how to communicate it in a clear, professional, firm way. Here’s hoping Joe hears you and is able to make changes!

    1. OP*

      OP here! I appreciate the solidarity! I hadn’t worked in a super small business environment before this, and it has definitely been enlightening about what I’ll need from a workplace in the future. I’m in grad school while I have this job, so it’s definitely not forever…but I’ve sure learned a lot. Thank you!

  31. Name Required*

    OP, what would happen if you took kiddo by the hand and walked out into the property to find your boss every time was disruptive, hungry, or too sick? “Hey Boss, Louie just threw up in the office and needs to be at home.”, “Hey Boss, Louie is hungry and there is no food for him.”, “Hey Boss, we can’t work with Louie in the office because he keeps disrupting us.” Would he blow up?

    1. OP*

      Hey, OP here! I honestly wish this was an option but I think it would make the boss pretty mad. This is a situation that has been going on here for a long time, like predating me and most of the members of the team, so I think he’s be confused/mad about where this was coming from. Thank you for the advice though!!

  32. Goya de la Mancha*

    Maybe it’s just my mindset today, but there is no way in hell that this boss is going to change. He 1) doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong and 2) will validate it to others (and himself) if he’s called out on it. I hate to be the negative Nancy here OP, but I’d be looking for a new job yesterday….which of course jobs don’t grow on trees so it doesn’t help you with the current problem.

    1. OP*

      OP here. Sadly……this is sort of where I see this going. I’m planning on talking to him with my coworkers, probably the next time the kiddo is sick, but yeah. I don’t have a TON of hope for a change, haha.

      1. Cookie Monster*

        I so feel for you in this situation, but I wouldn’t wait to have the talk until the kid is sick again. Joe won’t have had any time to plan, he’ll probably just foist the kid on you again and promise it’ll be different next time (if he acknowledges it’s a problem at all) but then nothing will actually change. I’d try to tell him ASAP so he has time to think about his options.

  33. A tester, not a developer*

    nothing helpful to add… but in my part of the world, a ‘Joe Louie’ (spelled Jos. Louis) is a delicious snack cake. :)

  34. Ankle Grooni*

    I don’t have anything to add, except that due to Daylight Savings’ Brain, I keep reading the headline as

    my boss drops kicks his kid off in our small office

    Reading about the kid puking everywhere was actually a relief.

  35. juliebulie*

    There’s another problem here too. Power Rangers videos. I’d be sitting next to that coughing, barfing kid all day and getting anything done.

  36. Stuck In A Crazy Job*

    That reminds me of my job where I had to babysit three stranger ass children because there was a meeting involving thier parents on the premises. I accidentally fed a kid with a dairy allergy pizza because no one told me about the allergy

    1. Stuck In A Crazy Job*

      Oh and they were in diapers and pull ups. My coworker had to change a diaper and I had to take the little kids to the bathroom

      1. Mae*

        Nope. Changing diapers and helping children with toileting is a hard no. I would have interrupted the meeting. Considering your user name, I hope you can get something better soon.

  37. Luna*

    The day after the sick kid has been in, call in sick yourself. If he insists on having that petri-dish in the office, he’d better be ready to give a ton of sick days for having Typhoid Mary near his employees.

    1. Mae*

      This seems unkind- calling the child a petri-dish and Typhoid Mary. He’s a 5 year old child who doesn’t get a choice about where he stays. This is squarely on the Dad. I agree he shouldn’t have the sick child in the office, but calling a child names doesn’t add anything useful for OP.

  38. LilySparrow*

    Yeah, childcare is expensive.
    But Joe is the boss. If he doesn’t have coverage of anyone who can perform his outside tasks while he cares for his sick child, then that’s where he should be spending his money – hiring and training more employees who can work at that level.

    A business owner who can’t take a sick day hasn’t yet developed a viable business – just created a really sucky job for themselves.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I think that’s the thing that makes me angry about this situation. An employee may run out of sick days or whatever, but this irresponsible dad is presumable the owner of the business. If he want to take a day (or a week) off to care for his sick child, he can. If he don’t like that his work piles up when he is away, he can hire a temp to cover his work, or cross-train his other employees to cover. If he wants to close the entire business for a month and go on vacation with his child, he can do that too. (I once knew an restaurant that closed for July, every year, since the owners wanted to take vacation.) Yet he chose to neglect his child instead.

      I wish I could give some useful advice, but the whole subject just makes me angry.

      1. LJay*

        I mean it’s possible he’s in a skilled trade where you just can’t hire a temp or have other employees to cover what he does.

        But since this seems to be a long term problem, he could hire competent child care if that is the case.

        1. OP*

          Letter-writer here. This is indeed the situation. The office team & I are fully capable of running the online, ecommerce, general business part of the business…the boss does super skilled work that none of us know how to do. Competent child care would definitely be a bonus (that I plan on getting my coworkers together to talk to him about). Thanks!

  39. MMB*

    OP I think I see where you’re coming from here. All other issues aside, you’re asking:
    A. How do I work up the courage to broach this subject?
    B. How do I phrase it so that I don’t lose my job or create friction?
    For me, I would phrase it as concern for the child and say something along the lines of “This is super awkward, but when you leave X here when he’s sick, it scares the crap out of me. If he spiked a fever, chocked on his own vomit (insert other bad things here) I just honestly don’t know what I’d do. And if we couldn’t get a hold of you…..” At which point he may try to then tell you how to deal with those issues or try to brush them off completely, but you need to be firm about the fact that you aren’t a licensed caregiver and you’re REALLY uncomfortable. He may surprise you and get the hint or he may not. It’s not as direct as other suggestions, but sometimes a more oblique approach can still be effective. The courage part is up to you.

    1. OP*

      Letter-writer here. Thank you so much for this! You got my actual questions 100% right. I think taking that oblique approach paired with Alison’s advice to get my coworkers to talk to the boss with me about it is going to be key. Thank you!

  40. ZucchiniBikini*

    I’m a microbusiness owner (freelancer really, but I provide services to several clients) who uses subcontractors regularly. Most of what my subbies do is done in their own homes, and returned to me electronically, so anyone’s kid situation (theirs or mine!) is basically invisible and doesn’t affect anyone else. If the work gets done on time and to standard, it is not even slightly my business how they sort themselves out, nor the other way around.

    However, there are times when a subbie and I need to work in the same location (usually my home office). I have certainly had times when this has coincided with having a child or children home – either because of illness or school holidays. I always tell my subbies if that is going to be the case, and make it clear that a) they are not expected to do anything for the kid/s and b) if they have a concern about being in the house with a sick kid, they can remote in instead. My kids are also older (two are teenagers now and the younger one is still old enough to take care of herself for basic needs) and when I have subbies to my office, they are all capable of, and do, staying in different rooms, fixing their own snacks, and generally not being in people’s faces.

    So basically – I think the LW’s situation is untenable and unreasonable. I wouldn’t draw from that, though, a hard and fast rule that business owners whose business operates from a home or home adjacent office should *never* have their kids around. That’s neither realistic (if the office shares space with where the kids live!) nor, frankly, in line with one of the reasons many people decide to go into business in the first place – to have more control over the way the pieces of life’s puzzle fit together. I would certainly rethink using a subcontractor who was incensed about the mere fact of my children’s presence on the rare occasions where both were in the same place at the same time.

    (Oh and yes, it does cut both ways – if a subbie needed to bring their own kid due to a school closure or unexpected failure of childcare, I am totally fine with it and have accommodated it).

    1. MissDisplaced*

      This is perfectly fine! You’re not expecting your Subbies to become your babysitter and leaving your kids alone with them.

    2. Mae*

      I don’t think the employees are “incensed” about the child’s presence. It’s that the child is left with them for hours and sometimes he is sick. If Dad was also in the office and taking care of his needs (providing meals/snacks vs. employee’s handing over their snacks because the child is hungry and Dad is not there) then it would probably not be much of an issue. Personally, I don’t think a sick, possibly contagious, child should be in the office. I have worked in small-ish office before and I can’t think of single time I or any other employee brought their child, sick or healthy, in. If you were off and needed to pop by the office to grab something, sure bring the kiddo in for minute.

      1. OP*

        This! Letter-writer here. I am definitely not incensed by this child’s presence. He’s cute and fun. I’m in grad school for a profession that will have me working with kids, and working this job in the meantime. When he’s not sick, I seriously don’t care. He can watch movies all day. It’s more just that he’s with us, for hours, prodding us to entertain and feed him…and then he’s sick a lot. If it didn’t fall to my team and I to hang out with him/feed him/etc…I really wouldn’t mind if he was around occasionally.

  41. Blue Eagle*

    Good suggestions above regarding resolving the child care issue, but if your boss is not responsive to any of them – – what about bringing in some of the breathing masks used by people who are contagious and wearing it yourself to protect yourself from the child who is contagious. Also, any possibility of wearing the thin-type gloves (used by medical people and for sale in drugstores) so you don’t have to continually wash your hands to keep the contagious germs off of them.

    Sorry about the situation you and your co-workers are in.

    1. Luna*

      I use those surgical masks myself when I have a bad cold, and don’t want to spread my germs when I have to go outside. But I can tell you, it requires a certain skill in terms of breathing if you wear glasses. Breathing in one of those things fogs glasses up so badly…

    2. OP*

      Hey, OP here. Thanks for this constructive advice! This might actually be the key…I walk around with disinfecting wipes cleaning like a madwoman when the kiddo is sick, but masks might actually be a nice way to get a message across quietly that we’re really perturbed by the situation. Thank you!

      1. Lady Heather*

        Be aware that the gloves might help you get the message across, but probably won’t help you stay healthy – a ‘touch-transferred’ bacteria or virus would get on your gloves, and then you’d scratch your nose because it’s something you do unconsciously, and presto, the bacteria or virus is in your nose.

        I wish you all the best of luck!

  42. MissDisplaced*

    My guess here is that Joe feels he his paying you you guys to do this.
    Unfortunately, this is the case with a lot of very small businesses. The owners think their own personal tasks are part and parcel of the job duties.

    I would push back. If I were given a sick child, I would have no clue what to do with it. But be prepared for Joe to fight you on this, and legally he can make you do anything he deems “work.”

  43. Erin*

    This would make me insane. Yes, an accident could happen, etc etc. But the real issue is that you are all stuck babysitting a 5 year old.

    You need to present a united front to Joe – even the ones who say “oh I don’t mind” but everyone knows they do mind. Stay calm and stick to the facts (not the mythical child emergencies). Your productivity is low, you can’t get tasks done, you are not being evaluated for childcare skills, you are tired of getting sick, etc.

    This poor kid needs a nanny to care for him in his dad’s absence, and Joe isn’t understanding it. You have to tell him.

  44. The Meow*

    Is it possible to just *not* act as a babysitter? If the kid asks for snacks, call your boss and let him know. If he responds with, “can you grab a banana from his lunch bag?” you can respond with a surprised silence followed by, “Oh, I was busy with X but I can do that this time if you can’t do it right now.” Same with complaints about being lonely. “Hey Joe, just calling to let you know Bruce is saying he’s bored. I’ll let you talk to him.” If you’ve had to spend a lot of time responding to the little boy’s attempts at conversation and it affects your work, you can also ask your boss something like, “I know you asked me to do X but as you know I’ve been minding Bruce this morning so wasn’t able to get it done. In the future how would you like me to handle this?”

    If the kid throws up, it’s absolutely not your job to clean it up. Call your boss and say you’re not comfortable cleaning up someone else’s vomit due to health and safety.

    Hopefully if you have a frank conversation with him that will be enough for your boss to stop treating his employees like free babysitters. But if it’s possible you can push back on performing child care duties that are clearly outside of your job description.

    1. OP*

      Hey! OP here. This is an excellent point and one that my colleagues and I have tried to varying degrees, especially with the food thing. When he starts to complain about being hungry, I’ll text or call Dad and be like “Louie’s hungry, can you grab him a snack?” Every time, this inevitably turns into “Cool, I’ll do it in a minute” and then…30 mins later there’s no snack. Out of both feeling bad for the kiddo, and not wanting to hear that he’s hungry anymore…we feed him.

      And you’re right. It’s definitely a matter of needing to push back against duties that aren’t part of my job–it’s just been part of everyone’s job for so long (including previous team members that aren’t here anymore) so I think everybody’s just used to the status quo. Thanks for the constructive advice!!

      1. JSPA*

        On the one hand, it’s not developmentally terrible for a 5 year old to be hungry for 30 minutes. Or even an hour. Assuming the kid is getting several solid meals a day, feeding snacks is a convenience thing, not a health and welfare issue.

        On the other hand, if the context is that dad won a custody battle that he maybe should not have won…or one that he may still lose again, if someone unsympathetic to him were to speak to the court…that’s either something to bring to child welfare / the court, or something to point out to dad. (Mom could, of course, be worse. That doesn’t change your role as childcare provider, which should be, “I’m not one.” But it may change your perception of reasonable options.)

  45. Don't get salty*

    Not only is it extremely dangerous to bring a kid into work unattended, it’s also dangerous because that child can make employees very sick. Imagine the entire office infected with whatever the sick child has, and the productivity lapse there is to endure. The times I’ve gotten the absolute sickest, in bed for weeks, were when I came in contact with a sick child. Now I avoid sick children like the plague!

  46. it's me*

    So many problems lately in letters are due to the company in question being small and like a “family.”

  47. It's OP!*

    Hey Alison!

    Thank you so much for taking on my question and for your advice–I really appreciate it. Sorry it took me so long to get to commenting!

    To address some of your questions: I guess I am afraid of some sort of retaliation for telling Joe that I don’t want his sick child in the office all day. I think the key word I used was volatile–sometimes he’s in a great mood and everything is great, but other times he is exceptionally nasty to us. No one’s gotten fired, but it definitely puts a major damper on things (which is a big deal when it’s 5 people working in the same room). I just have a feeling that this would be the kind of thing that would trigger a big anger spell with reasoning like “it’s not a big deal, he’s not doing anything” and “you guys don’t understand what it’s like to have a sick kid.” But, alas, those are bigger issues than just a sick kid, so it might be more of an issue of needing to find a job with a better boss. Haha.

    To answer some concerns I saw in the comments about Louie getting hurt or injured in some way in this scenario–honestly, very low possibility of that. When I say one room, I mean one room that’s basically a generously-sized living room with desks in it. Louie gets the couch all to himself where he watches movies all day (and when sick, coughs all over everything, etc). But very low chance he’d get injured.

    I love the idea of getting all my coworkers together to kind of say something as a group–I think that might be the best option here rather than trying to say something on my own. I’m the project manager, and thus do a lot of the liaising between the team and the boss, and sometimes I think he feels like I’m nagging him (and this would exacerbate that). So you’re right, a team approach would be great.

    Thanks again for the advice–going to read through all these comments now!

    1. Shadowette*

      Hey OP,

      I’m a little bit late to this thread but I did a quick (very cursory) search of the comments and didn’t see anyone suggesting a sick kid nanny service. It might be something to suggest if it’s offered in your area.

      Alison is absolutely right that working parents have a rough time trying to figure out what to do when their kids get sick. Especially if missing work means losing money. Because of this, there are these newish (popped up in last 5 years or so) agencies that will provide nannies to watch sick kids at the last minute. It might not work if Joe won’t make enough in a day to offset the cost of the nanny but it could be offered as a possible alternative to the current situation.

    2. it's me*

      “other times he is exceptionally nasty to us”
      “it might be more of an issue of needing to find a job with a better boss”
      Yeah I think you might (all) need to do that. He’s leaning on you all to watch his kid, he’s occasionally nasty to you guys, and he views you doing your job as “nagging” him. This situation doesn’t have to be your problem.

  48. JSPA*

    Mothers have carried kids and cared for kids outside for centuries. Depending what dad is doing outside, put the kid in a backpack. Better for the kid, better for bonding, way better for the “office.”

    Kelty has made child carriers forever (my parents carried me in one half a century ago). There’s “toughtraveler” and something called a “piggybackrider.”

    Alternatively, he needs to hire a sitter, whether that’s indoors or out.

    And you…well, you presumably have good reasons for working where you work. But in case the dynamic snuck up on you…there are not a lot of excuses to be made for a boss who’s occasionally “exceptionally nasty.”

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