we need to tell our remote employees they can’t take care of young kids while they’re working

A reader writes:

We are in the place many employers are where we are needing to walk back our pandemic-era policy around children being home when people are working. For context, this is a call center job so people are on the phone with customers the majority of the day. For those in leadership, we have a lot of virtual meetings.

We’ve been able to green light all front-line positions staying fully remote, as there is no business need for them to come into office. But we’re running into more and more issues with people having small children, even infants, home all day while they work. From hearing kids in the background of calls, to toddlers sitting on laps during training, to people explaining their low production numbers with needing to tend to their children, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. (An important note is that availability of childcare is not a big issue in our area. People are choosing to keep kids home to save money or due to personal preference, not due to lack of options.)

My question is how to put meaningful guidelines around it. To some degree, it will vary by child whether their parent can work from home successfully while the child is also at home, but it also seems like we need a cutoff for kids under a certain age (for example, infants and toddlers just aren’t independent enough to not be a distraction). We don’t want to be overly restrictive, and we want leave some space for one-offs. Ideally someone does not have their five-year-old home all day every day, but if there is an issue that means it needs to happen for one day, maybe that’s okay.

Should this sound something like, “We expect you to have regular, dependable childcare for children under X age while working from home. We understand that there may be occasions when you need to have young children home and this is permissible so long as it doesn’t affect the quality of your work, but it cannot be your day-to-day plan to have them home.”

Many people have the impression that this is a benefit of the job (certainly not something we told them, it’s an assumption), and this needed change will probably mean we lose some employees, but we just can’t have a kid screaming for juice while our employee is trying to help a customer.

Before the pandemic, it was customary for companies to have policies requiring that employees working from home have separate child care in place for young kids, and to strictly enforce that. The reason, obviously, was that you can’t take care of little kids while also devoting your full attention to your job; young kids need a lot of supervision and attention.

If anyone doubted that, Covid certainly proved it — it’s why so many parents desperately needed some slack during the pandemic when their kids weren’t in school or daycare and they had no choice but to care for them at the same time they were working, which caused many companies to relax their policies. Even after schools and daycares opened back up, childcare shortages lingered in a lot of areas (and before vaccination was available to very young kids, out-of-home care wasn’t a safe option for many families). Good employers have rightly chosen to accommodate all of that, since the alternative would mean parents would have to drop out of the workforce altogether (something that would — and indeed did — affect women in far greater numbers).

But if child care availability is no longer an issue in your area — and that is a huge, huge caveat — then it makes sense to return to the pre-pandemic expectation of separate child care for people with young kids. How young is up to you. Pre-pandemic it was pretty typical for those policies to apply to kids up to 10 or 12. (Personally I think that’s on the high end, particularly if the kids are in school much of the day. Ideally policies would leave this up to the parents’ own judgment about their own children, but if that worked you wouldn’t need the policy at all.)

Whatever age you choose, you can include wording that makes exceptions for one-off’s. For example: “Remote workers are expected to arrange for child care just as they would if they were working in the office. If you have a child under age X, we expect you to have separate child care in place during your working hours. We will make occasional exceptions for unplanned or temporary circumstances (like a school closure or a sick child) but these should be the exception and not the norm.”

You might also speak to the outcome you’re attempting to achieve: “Remote workers should have a quiet, distraction-free working space where they can ensure callers will not overhear household noise. We understand that the nature of working at home is that you cannot control every possible sound a caller might hear, but callers hearing noise from (for example) children, pets, televisions, etc. should be a rarity rather than a commonplace occurrence.”

You should also give your employees a grace period before you start enforcing the policy since if they don’t know it’s coming, they’ll need to time to make arrangements to comply with it.

{ 626 comments… read them below }

  1. Nat Romanov's Much-Needed Vacation*

    I’m really not sure it’s the employer’s business to speak to anything except results.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      to people explaining their low production numbers with needing to tend to their children

      That sounds like a result to me.

      That being said, instead of directly specifying child care requirements, they could lay out expectations along with consequences looking at factors such as productivity levels, availability for calls, and distracting noises during calls.

        1. Education Mike*

          There are plenty of legitimate reasons to not want someone actively parenting while they are working that might not show up in “production numbers.” An employee whose kids become a distraction to other people in meetings, or who has a child screaming in the background of customer calls is still a huge issue.

          1. lyngend (canada)*

            Also confidentiality. kids repeat stuff they hear. If an adult can hear it neither can a kid

      1. ferrina*

        Agree. I also think the company needs to both focus on results and have a clear policy. The childcare policy that LW proposes is clear but also gives some wiggle room. But that definitely needs to be paired with some hands-on management. One of the problems LW lists is that employees think that having kids is a reason for performing below expectations (or rather, that the business should reset expectations to be lower). This isn’t fair to the business or this person’s coworkers who have to pick up the slack. At this point, it’s reasonable to expect people to not be providing childcare while they are working.

    2. CharlieBrown*

      If a client can hear a child while on the call, that is not good optics for the company, and something they have a legitimate right to be concerned about.

      1. Rolly*

        You’re generally right.

        But imagine a world in which we recognized that people have families and lives. And that hearing a tiny bit of that (not a distracting amount) is not a bad thing. In some contexts, that’s a good thing. It would be good optics.

        I’ve been on calls with people who pre-emptively mention having a kid nearby, but are clearly focused on the meeting and the kid never or almost never is heard from. I tend to think pretty positively about those people/organizations. I was on such a call ten days ago.

        A kid frequently interrupting a meeting is another thing altogether.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          It’s a call center. It’s entirely reasonable to expect employees not to have calls interrupted regularly by children, pets, spouses, roommates, etc.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My mother used to call me all the time at work because she was newly-retired and bored, and I finally had to tell her to stop it–I was working. I do have a life outside of work, yes, but it’s reasonable for my employer to expect it not to be that intrusive when I’m, you know, working.

            1. KateM*

              Not much different, it still makes it difficult to hear what someone it trying to tell. Same way as you shouldn’t have TV running in background when you are giving out information to someone, you shouldn’t have a child talking.

              1. Rolly*

                Do yall literally work in private offices whenever you’re on a call?

                There is sometimes background noise in my office and there is sometimes background noise with a kid when I work at home. I don’t see the difference.

                And no, I am not talking about a toddler or 2nd grader asking for attention. That’s an interruption. It *is* different than hearing something in the background.

                1. Oofandouch*

                  I think it depends on the noise. Hearing a conversation or typing and general office noise is annoying but “acceptable”

                  Hearing a kids show or music or like running around screaming and giggling, is more distracting and feels out of place (at least for me).

                2. Inkognyto*

                  Prior to the pandemic my company required a room for working remote up to 4 days a week. They said it cannot be the kitchen table.

                  I signed an agreement to work from home that included an office working space with a door. Childcare would be handled not by the employee during working hours. It listed pets not being heard in the background. Any papers related to work are to be put away and locked up in any. (We cannot print so this would be hand written notes).

                  Due to a lot of us working with sensitive data, there’s a reason they don’t want people around. They shouldn’t be listening to an employee help someone with an issue in entering data that is PHI etc. It’s the same reason most of us had offices, and the floors when we had an office were locked. It may be “IT”, but we manage healthcare systems.

                  I was also told by my director to remember as the meeting coordinator that you can mute people if noises are being heard and disruptive. Which tells me something happened enough for him to tell the whole team.

                  I also heard of some teams being talked too about appropriate work environment recently, and using a background/filters/blurring etc. The phrase I heard was “Please don’t display your laundry to everyone”

                3. KateM*

                  Yes, there are sometimes background noise when someone is in office – like someone else on another call. Let me tell you it’s as bad as a kid watching TV. People who are having meetings indeed should be able to have them in conference rooms or private offices, just like in-person they hopefully wouldn’t have six-people meetings around any random table in open office.

                4. Worldwalker*

                  It depends on the noise.

                  For example, a while back I was calling tech support for something, and clearly the person at the next desk to the person I was talking to had a bad connection to their caller, and they were freaking *shouting*. It’s really difficult to understand detailed instructions, delivered by someone with something of an accent, when someone else is almost as loud and shouting instructions for an entirely different problem.

                  Yeah, that’s not common (it’s only happened to me once) but there’s a continuum between “vague office noises in the background” (since I work for home, I have an app for that!) to “someone is drowning out what you’re trying to hear.” And when I’m the caller, I’d really prefer it to be a *lot* closer to the former.

                  “I have kids” (or a dog, or an African gray parrot, or a lonely relative) is an explanation, not an excuse.

                5. LittleMarshmallow*

                  I work in a noisy office and it is often a problem. We frequently have to ask a nearby coworker to talk more quietly because the mic is only picking up them or sit in a quiet room if it’s a particularly noisy office day. It’s a pretty reasonable request to be able to hear people on a call. Sometimes even in the office adjustments have to be made.

                6. Kuddel Daddeldu*

                  Looking at this from a customer perspective: Recently I had to deal with a call center in a (for me) stressful situation, dealing with a flight cancelation after 15 hours of travel. The call center had a lot of background noise, making the call even more stressful for me. (I did finally make it to my destination.)

                7. Keith*

                  When i am talking to an actual call center i can always hear other employees talking in the background. This quest for silence and no distractions is a little misguided. And, covid is still raging no matter what HR or the boss says.

            2. Overit*

              A parent wotking while an unsupervised kid is in the background means that the parent is distracted. As a parent, you always have to keep one ear/eye on your kid because even the most angelic of children will suddenly decide to climb on a chair, then on to the counter. open a cupboard and get a bean from a canister and stick it up their nose.

              From the BTDT parenting school which teaches you that you just cannot ignore your kids.

              So no, an employee with unsupervised childten is not paying full attention yo their work.

              1. Worldwalker*

                If one of my cats is not sleeping on my lap or the bed, I have to shut him in the bathroom during Zoom meetings for fear I’ll be interrupted by a giant crashing noise meaning that he was bored and decided to destroy some part of the house just to see what happens.

                He’s a Bengal just out of kittenhood; his idea of fun is “Can I knock it down? Can I break it? Then can I play with all the parts?” (right now, of course, since I’m reading AAM, he’s sleeping like a spotty little angel; don’t you believe him) I can just imagine trying to get any work done with him scaled up to toddler size and equipped with opposable thumbs!

                1. allornone*

                  Exactly. My cat (who’s not a Bengal and no longer on the edge of kittenhood, so probably needs even less activity and interaction) is known to jump on the soundbar, paw at the t.v., or do some other destructive shenanigans when he’s deliberately seeking attention. I can’t imagine the focus a human child would need.

                2. Ollie*

                  You made me miss my Bengal who passed away a couple years ago. Even at 15 years old he was a little brat who loved to knock things off my desk so I would get up and get them and then he would steal my chair.

                3. Violet Fox*

                  I have a 10 year old Bengal. They don’t get that much calmer. My gaming buddies tend to refer to me as “the person with the loud cat”.

                4. Former Employee*

                  I am picturing your cat the size of a toddler and running around in those footie pjs the little ones wear. Of course, kitty would have a special pair with a hole in the back for his tail.

                  So cute! So much more damage!

              2. Brin*

                Yup, even my employee with a 10 year old gets noticeably distracted when her son is home from school, and he needs sooooo much less attention/direct care than a toddler.

                I think it’s completely reasonable to require parents to have childcare (emergencies or rare exceptions aside). My employees with children always had childcare before we started working remotely. During the pandemic, it was just reality that their kids would be home and we worked around it. But now that schools and daycares are open again, parents can’t be supervising their kids all day while trying to work. I offer tons of flexibility- I don’t enforce a hard start or end time, I don’t track hours, I require each employee to take at least 4 weeks of PTO per year, and I’m always supportive when someone needs to take themselves or a family member to the doctor/vet/appointment. But they need to be productive.

          2. Yorick*

            That it’s a call center is extremely relevant. When you call customer support, you want to have the representative’s full attention and not hear background noise, especially background noise that isn’t work related.

        2. Punk*

          I feel like some of these arguments are in bad faith? You know exactly why it’s a bad idea to have kids in the room while you’re working, and it’s not a productive use of time or energy to expect people to justify something true and obvious.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I’m a receptionist and even trying to take calls when other adults are standing around chatting is hard. I can’t imagine what it would be like having to handle a child (who isn’t as responsive to things like a polite, deferential ‘hi, can you keep it down, I’m trying to focus on this caller’s detailed medical issue’ as an adult is) all day.

            I’d put them back in day-care just to get some quiet.

        3. On the Sidelines*

          This brings to mind the “cutsie” commercial for a device used to access remote meetings, which dims lights, follows the person speaking if they move around, dims ambient noise, etc. A dad is clearly on a business call and his daughter is trying very hard to distract him by turning off the lights, throwing a ball toward him, etc. The kid looks to be about 9 – old enough to know better. Dad just chuckles because the product helps him stay on task, but I’m just thinking how annoying that kid is and how Dad needs to draw some boundaries.

          1. Lydia*

            This! Same with that other commercial where the kid comes in playing a recorder and Dad just looks up with a “how adorable” look, smoothly mutes the background noise, and finishes his meeting without missing a beat. What a joke.

        4. Ellis Bell*

          I think you’re talking about a child being in the vicinity, perhaps being cared for by someone else, or coming home after their schooling or daycare. I agree we should be no more precious about a child’s occasional voice than others in a general household. That’s very different to someone actively caring for a child all day, while doing a completely different type of work simultaneously. It’s hard work and children simply don’t just entertain/raise/educate themselves. It isn’t fair to treat children like interruptions (and they will interrupt if neglected) and it isn’t fair on their adults to allow this idea that being on parenting duty isn’t real work. People then start to wonder what’s wrong with them/their child that they can’t do it.

            1. Katrine Fonsmark*

              I think the idea, though, is to make your home work environment mimic the office work environment. Your kids can’t interrupt your meeting to ask for a snack if you’re in the conference room at your office, so why should they be able to interrupt you at home? It’s not that parenting isn’t real work – it’s exactly the opposite. Parenting IS full-time work in many cases, and you literally can’t give your full attention to two jobs at once.

              1. Ellis Bell*

                I don’t see how a young child would be kept out of the work area, unless you either take them to daycare, or bring in a home carer. Which is what OP is suggesting. Obviously no one is talking about older children who can see to themselves.

    3. boutitboutit*

      This is an interesting take! My partner does all the childcare for our 1 year old and is the top performer in his call-centric technical assistance job.

        1. Jen*

          Not to mention, an important question is: what kind of care is the 1 year old receiving? Are they sitting in front of a tv or tablet most of the day? Or are they getting attention from an adult, listening to stories, being spoken to, playing with a variety of toys, and gaining new experiences in a safe environment?

          1. Jj*

            That’s an important question for parents, but not for the employer, though? I agree with the take that the employer should focus on results, and have a clear way to evaluate compliance // give out consequences etc. But if a parent can somehow parent their toddler from home without that kid ever being seen or heard – and their work outputs are within the needed range – then great. No need for the employer to meddle further and ask questions.

            1. Lydia*

              I think the point Jen was making is that if you’re having active interaction with a kid, you cannot be focused on the work you’re doing, because reading and playing with a child are active things that take focus, whereas if it’s less involved, you might be able to pull it off. I feel like there’s a heavy emphasis on discussing the results without bringing up the cause at all, and I don’t think you can do that.

            2. BethDH*

              I think it’s important for employers because I don’t want my employer (or employers & society in general) to think it’s possible to parent small children well while simultaneously working. That sets up all kinds of expectations that will just hurt me long term, like that I shouldn’t be able to take a sick day when my kids are sick because of course I can just do all my work anyway.

            3. Not now, not ever*

              I work in child protection and reading this comment was like being punched in the gut. We all have a responsibility to care about the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens. Hear no evil, see no evil was for a darker age.

              1. A*

                Can you please expand on that? I’m genuinely curious as to me it seems like a slippery slope to encourage employers to question their employees parenting choices and approaches unless there are signs of neglect or abuse.

                1. Potted Plant*

                  I genuinely don’t understand how it’s possible to parent a one year old non-neglectfully while working most jobs. Maybe I had one year olds that were harder to deal with. Mom of 2 here.

      1. Emily*

        That’s nice, but your one anecdotal example does not negate the problems LW is having with parents who are working from home and are distracted by children.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      Distraction in meetings is a bad result – whether it’s caused by kids, pets, television, loud music or noisy roommates. Specifying a distraction free work environment is perfectly legitimate, especially for a customer service position.

      I hate it when I’m calling customer service and I hear the noise of a “boiler room” type work environment, and I would also hate the same level of some kid yelling for attention in the background, or a dog barking, or a soap opera on TV. I feel that they are not (and can’t be) paying full attention to the issue we are discussing.

      I work remotely, and I sometimes have to shush a roomie or mute my mic when there is a train rolling by (literally – my house backs up to an active railroad.) It’s part of my job to manage my environment in a professional manner.

      That being said, you will probably have to spell out the child care requirement, because most parents of small children are inured to just how much noise they make (because they hear it all the time.) But you can bundle the requirement in with examples of other noise and distraction that needs to be managed appropriately. While parents with small kids aren’t the only offenders on the noise/distraction front, they do tend to be the most frequent, so you can even get away with mentioning them first.

      The “result” you are managing for is a professional, distraction free work environment. Some people really need heavy handed clues on how to get there.

      1. Annie J*

        What is interesting is that prior to the pandemic, whenever I would call a call centre there was often a lot of loud background office chatter, and when I was on the other end id have customers complaining about that but managers just didn’t care about it because that was just the norm.
        Personally, I don’t see how having a kid in the background is any worse than that incessant White Noise babble you can often get, I actually much prefer it.

        1. LawBee*

          The difference I see is that office white noise babble doesn’t generally require the attention of the person I’m talking to – I’m not competing with it. But a parent at home with vocal kids is going to HAVE to see what the kid wants, and now I’ve lost their attention. Even if I technically haven’t, my perception is that I have, which is just as bad.

          I see this with my clients a lot. I’m trying to talk to them about their case, and they’re managing tv, snacks, homework, etc. It makes for very long difficult and unsatisfactory calls; I frequently have to call back because it just isn’t possible to have the conversation I need.

          1. missmesmer*

            One of my coworkers has been working from his living room since the start of covid, with a toddler, a first grader, and his SAHM wife hanging out in the same space. Even though she is responsible for childcare, the sounds of kids playing, trying to get into places they should not, screaming when they are forbidden to do so, etc, etc, are endlessly disruptive because whatever happens, she has to attend to it stat.

            As humans, we’re literally hardwired to find child noises distracting and annoying so that we don’t neglect our younglings! There’s no comparison between that and office background noise.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Bingo. To be fair, as a customer I also find loud boiler rooms in call centers to be a problem too, because it makes it harder for me to hear the person I’m talking to. But kids or pets add an extra dimension of “Excuse me, I have to deal with this” to the conversation.

            2. CommanderBanana*

              ^^ This re: the sound of children. I don’t have children, but was a caretaker of an infant and toddler for a while. The sound of a baby crying immediately lights up my FIND THE BABY AND ENSURE IT’S OK neural pathways.

        2. Phony Genius*

          The first thing I would like call centers to do is to make it so that I don’t hear the adjacent operator’s conversation better than the one I’m talking to. I can imagine how close together they must be sitting for that to happen.

          1. lilsheba*

            See that’s the thing, requiring call center jobs to have a “quiet” place at home to work is unrealistic. Have they HEARD a call center, in the office? They are LOUD. When I worked in a call center I was forever telling people to SHUT UP so I could hear the person on the phone. A home is not nearly as loud as a call center. And yeah they do sometimes sit people too close together, it’s horrid.

            1. lyngend (canada)*

              the one I worked at had that requirement. But all employees there worked from home. (we just weren’t allowed to say that until covid happened)

              1. Lydia*

                My husband’s job didn’t want employees to mention they were at home, either, even though ALL of them were remote. My husband was that last holdout until the office was completely shut down due to COVID.

        3. ThatGirl*

          My manager was home yesterday with her sick 2 year old. He’s a sweet kid, but he wasn’t feeling well, and he wanted her attention. And it was totally fine for one meeting, we all get it, but as a constant interruption of “mommy? momma? I watch Bluey? momma? want snack?” it could definitely get old.

        4. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          That’s not the whole issue here, though. The LW even talks about age cutoffs, so it’s not about the presence of children and the sounds they might sometimes make. The issue with watching children, especially young children, is that it is WORK. If children are old enough to amuse themselves and are only occasionally loud, that’s one thing. Babies, toddlers, and small children are not just background noise, they need ATTENTION, and the sounds they make that are a problem on calls are the ones that are evolutionary developed to be heard and to garner attention.

          When someone is accessing a customer service line, they are paying (either through subscription, the purchase price of a product, tax money, etc) for the undivided attention of a human to assist then with their issue. If you are trying to do that at call center capacity and also care for children, you are doing a huge disservice to both the customers and the children.

          There are reasons that in child care centers, there are limits to the child to carer ratios, and there are reasons you generally are not allowed to do a second job while literally working on the tasks for your first job. It’s because there is a level of care and attention you are expected to devote to what you are working on, and more than that degrades the quality of the care/work.

          It’s totally reasonable to expect your employee to not be attempting to do the whole separate, active, full-time job of early child care while they are supposed to be “on” and helping customers. I’m a person who always advocates for employers to not dictate anything that doesn’t affect work quality or protect their other employees, and I can easily and firmly see that someone watching a kid who needs active supervision diminishes diminishes their capacity to do their job.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right — the whole reason why parents of young children have struggled so much during the pandemic and needed extra grace is because it is impossible to do both jobs at once. We’ve all just seen that very clearly, if there was ever any doubt about it.

            1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              During lockdown I suddenly found myself teaching elementary school remotely (which is not a thing I thought POSSIBLE, and still a thing I think is very sub-par pedagogically, though I’m glad for my health and safety my school went remote) and caring for a 3.5 year old. My husband took her during my classes and meetings, I took her during his, and I stayed up until midnight or later each night replying to third graders on Google Classroom and making new virtual assignments for kindergartners. It was awful. I had zero work-life balance and have had to work hard to re-learn it.

              1. whingedrinking*

                If it helps, I found tutoring children remotely to be the most stressful thing I’d ever done (admittedly, not helped by the fact that the curriculum we were using was not at all adapted for this process). At one point, having expressed my general preference for working with teens and pre-teens, but able to work with primary kids in a pinch, I was asked if I could tutor pre-school kids – which I can’t even do in person and am professionally opposed to in any case. I quit almost on the spot.

                1. nona*

                  ….what do pre-school children even need tutoring for? Like going over their numbers, colors and letters?

                2. whingedrinking*

                  Basically you’ve got a lot of parents who want their kid to be able to read and write before they hit kindergarten, often in English when the language in the home is something else. The thing is that at that age kids are still developing their gross and fine motor skills, oral language, etc., not to mention their attention span. It’s very far outside my wheelhouse and a lot of parents have unrealistic expectations of what “tutoring” looks like for a kid that young. (Like, the Montessori method was specifically developed because Maria Montessori realized it was ludicrous to put small kids in desks all day.)

              2. straws*

                I honestly don’t know how elementary school teachers managed. I have so much love and respect for you all! My son was in Kindergarten and I was so impressed with how his school and teachers pivoted, but oh my gosh – listening to the virtual classroom on my end was difficult and I wasn’t even participating! We ended up holding my son back because he just didn’t learn what he needed to with virtual schooling, but his teachers worked HARD for the little that he did learn.

          2. straws*

            This is a brilliantly written comment. I love my kids and they are generally well behaved. At the beginning of the pandemic, my kids were 1 and 5. The ONLY reason I got any work done is because my 5 year old is exceptionally mature socially and he kept his little brother occupied and distracted the majority of the time. If I didn’t have him, I don’t think I could have worked. My 1 year old isn’t exceptionally loud or demanding, but he wants to be near mom and it was just… incredibly distracting to have him touching me or potentially needing something.

      2. Summer*

        I work from home and, while I unfortunately don’t have kids, I do have a dog that occasionally barks. We’ve tried multiple trainers and methods but nothing works; he barks at everyone that walks by our house. My office is in the back while, if he’s barking, it means he’s at the front of the house but it’s still audible but it’s not all day either. If I’m on a call while that happens I will apologize and move on. It doesn’t distract me from giving my full attention to the other person and no one has commented on it other than to commiserate about their own dogs.

        I feel that a barking dog or a TV is one thing; a young child or baby that requires constant attention is a completely different matter. There may be some jobs where the person can get away with doing both things at once, but that’s certainly not true for every person or job. The child needs to be cared for by someone else either in or out of the home. If it’s in home then the parent needs to be clear that they must be treated as if they aren’t home while working.

        1. A*

          I agree. So long as I can clearly hear what the person is saying, I don’t care about background noise. However if there is a child asking them questions or begging for their attention, not only is it distracting but it makes me feel guilty for taking their time and attention.

    5. Mehitabel*

      Yes, but.

      I’ve sat in my fair share of Zoom meetings where other participants were as much occupied with their small kids as they were the meeting, and it proved a huge distraction and annoyance for everyone. That’s not “results”, exactly, but I think it matters.

      I’ve also dealt with staff whose childcare obligations means that they are frequently not available to their co-workers when they need to be available. That’s also not exactly “results”, but it does impact everyone they work with.

      I do wish it would not be necessary to make policies around things like mandatory childcare, but if you’re going to have expectations around a distraction-free environment and/or availability during business or core hours, both of which are completely reasonable expectations, then it may be necessary to include at least a mention of securing childcare if that’s what it takes for staff to meet those expectations.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, no–that’s results.

        Look, we know people have kids, but when it’s getting in the way of everyone else, it’s a problem. It’s not just one person’s time and energy being redirected, it’s the time and energy of everyone who missed what Jane just said because her dog was barking or has to wait for Bob to hand off his toddler to his wife again.

        1. Smithy*

          I think the point of clarifying it as “not results” is that the impact is often generally not measurable.

          If you have a 30 minute meeting with a colleague distracted/interrupted by child noise/needs and you make it through all the agenda points but:
          – work shared or proposals presented has less time for discussion/brain storming;
          – less time for follow-up questions to top-down decisions that may be unclear;
          – more work gets moved to tasks that can be done off-line
          – reduced opportunity to connect and build rapport with colleagues.

          Sure, everything may have been covered that was on the agenda – but measuring the “results” of a meeting being held with distractions isn’t easy. And then you’re putting managers in a place to monitor how their staff are performing in meetings? Or colleagues to share that their supervisor or coworker is decreasing the overall result of meetings they’re involved in?

          1. A*

            Yup, and using a call center as an example – even though most will record calls, they don’t listen to every single one of them afterwards. I had to call a CS line last week where the individual apologized right off the bat for the noise as her young child was home, which would have been fine except the whole time the kid was begging for her attention and I felt GUILTY for taking her attention away. I was so uncomfortable that I ended up saying I resolved the issue myself, hung up, and called back to get another rep. I’m not going to spend time writing in to corporate about it, so unless that call just to happened to be one randomly selecting for recording review it would be a known result / measurable.

        2. straws*

          Agreed. Maybe it would be more helpful to phrase it as impact instead of just results? Either way, even if it’s not a direct, measured result that is changing, there is absolutely and impact to the employee and everything related to them if young children are home 100% of the work day (and I say this as a parent of 3 young children).

    6. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

      Taking care of small children is a full time job. You cannot do that well and work at the same time.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        Small children, definitely. Older children… it depends. When my now-teenager was in elementary school, they were functionally incapable of going an hour without needing me to do something (open a carton, mediate an argument, give permission for something, remember a password, etc.) My younger child is now 10 but has been capable of self-entertainment for years. I can tell her “mommy’s working” and she knows to text me if she needs something and I’ll get back to her soon-ish if I can.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          It’s true that different children can be more or less independent at the same ages, and I agree with Alison that having the cutoff age be 10-12 is higher than necessary. But I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a policy that children under age 5 or 6 need to have an alternate caretaker, because for the most part, it’s going to be a lot harder to keep those kids occupied for long stretches of time. It’s one thing if your kids are in that 7-10 range and all you have to do is welcome them home from school and get them settled, it’s different if they’re still relying on grown ups to help them do a lot of things.

          My oldest nibling is four, and also one of the most curious human beings on the planet. I can’t imagine trying to hold down a full time job while also fulfilling all of kidlet’s conversational needs. I just don’t think it’s possible.

          1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

            My youngest is 8 and since he’s in school most of my working hours it’s a non issue. The litter bit he his home while I’m working, he knows the drill by now.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I teach children who are 11-14 and quite a lot of them still need an awful lot of adult input and oversight. Many are practically mini adults and would definitely entertain themselves after school, others are unable to go fifteen minutes without getting into some kind of fix. If you have a child with a need, like ADHD (it’s not rare!) then they are just simply going to interrupt or need adult input at the worst possible time.

            1. A*

              I often wonder how I managed to survive, let alone do well academically, as a latchkey kid starting in elementary school with ADHD. Truly. No idea.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Ditto. I was a latchkey kid and had to look after my little sister after school while my mother worked. I was usually three grades ahead of her, so after I was in 4th grade I was babysitting my sister after school. I was diagnosed with ADD in first or second grade, no Ritalin.

        2. Daisy*

          This is exactly why they have age limits on when childcare is needed. The huge majority of 14-year-olds, or even 10-year-olds, are not going to need active parenting all of the time. Four-year-olds, on the other hand, should have an “eyes on them” adult in the room whenever they are awake and an adult listening from the next room over (or close by with a monitor) when asleep. I don’t think anyone is saying most 10-16-year-olds need to be at childcare.

          1. Rara Avis*

            My child was 11 when we went remote. Mostly self-sufficient. But there were times when they were having a school-related meltdown (something wasn’t working) and I couldn’t leave my job to help. It didn’t feel good to ignore their needs. And any screen-time limits we were attempting to uphold went completely out the window. I was so glad when a supervised remote learning option came up. I need to turn off my mother-brain to be a good worker. I can’t imagine trying to do both at once.

            1. straws*

              I practically threw money at our daycare when they opened up a remote learning center during the pandemic. My son was 5 and in Kindergarten. He’s great with tech and pretty self-sufficient when it comes to occupying himself. But it was so much more than that (the meltdowns were EPIC), and I was going nuts trying to balance everything.

        3. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

          Right, it depends on the child as well as age and circumstances. When my school age child was home from school sick, I could put in a reasonable amount of work. He would sit and watch tv, nap (naps only happened when sick) and read. I would just need to get him food and drinks.
          You can’t let a preschooler watch tv 40 hours a week every week.

        4. Allonge*

          I imagine if the cutoff was at 7 but someone’s particular kid of 9 could not stop asking help 3 times per hour, that person still would be asked to get some kind of alternate kid-wrangler. The thing about cutoff ages is not that above that everything goes, but to have at least one easy point of reference. The goal is still a by-and-large undisturbed parent working.

    7. The Person from the Resume*

      It is the employer’s business to want a professional work environment on phone calls that means no noisy backgrounds with kids, tvs, and barking dogs.

      But also these employees jobs are to be “on the phone with customers the majority of the day.” They results of actively caring for a child especially a child small enough that they cannot be made to wait is that calls with customers are interuppted, not started, skipped, and the employee is pulling their weight for their role. The result is unhappy customers who are trying to have a professional business call while the person they’re talking to is distracted.

    8. JSPA*

      If a child under a certain age is unsupervised, that’s a danger, and a legal problem.
      Sedating or muffling a child for your benefit is child abuse.
      Threatening or bribing a small child into complete silence, 8 hours a day? Not possible, and in any case, unthinkable.

      Below a certain age, there is no other tenable rule than, “someone else looks after the child.”

      1. Iris Eyes*

        There are two separate issues:
        1. distraction by being a primary caretaker of a child, if they are below school age this is not compatible with working a job at the same time as the care taking needs to occur. If an elementary school age child is home all day that’s also not quite compatible. Children and employers deserve better.
        2. distracting background noises. Plenty of people work from home and have someone else who is the primary caregiver of the child who is also in the home. If noise is an issue then there are two considerations 1. are you providing the right equipment with background noise cancelling technology? 2. are you paying enough that their salary is enough to pay for at least 2 bedroom residence in your area? If you aren’t giving them the resources to deal with the inevitable background noises of life that’s on you.

    9. Artemesia*

      It is not possible to supervise a small child and be doing call center work. It is not possible to supervise a small child and participate in zoom meetings, work with clients and get work that requires focus done. It is an entirely reasonable requirement of the job especially with some grace for school closures and sick days.

    10. Nodramalama*

      I fundamentally disagree with this. Even if you are working from home you are still AT WORK. And how employees conduct themselves at work is something employers have an interest in and have a right to create policies or requirements for. If an employee was routinely bringing their kid into the office that would definitely be in the employers interest

      1. IDK*

        “How employees conduct themselves at work” is a pretty different question now than it was in 2019, no? In an ideal world I’d agree that it’s preferable for people to not have their children home while they work (and I’m sure the vast majority of employees with kids home would agree!) but childcare is expensive, the pandemic is still happening, and the divide between work and home for most people is much less clean than it used to be.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          All true, but they don’t change the fundamental “you can’t care for a child at work” aspect.

          I could write the million caveats of children above a certain age and of the right temperament, and the caveats about grace for sick days, and the biggest caveat of all about extra large grace if there really is no child care access, but we KNOW this ground.

          1. JustaTech*

            Exactly about grace for sick days!
            One time in college (exactly one time) my professor had to bring his son to class because the kiddo, aged 1.5 or so, was sick and couldn’t go to daycare, and my prof’s spouse wasn’t able to take him all day.
            So he sat in his stroller next to his dad (not asleep, but doing that 1000 yard stare thing) and we had class. Was it ideal? No. Was it better than missing class? Heck yes. The professor also apologized about a dozen times (until we said “this is better than missing class, get on with it!”).

            But it would not have worked, at all, when that kid was feeling well, because I’d met him at social functions and he was a very active kid who would need a lot of supervision.
            (I also had a class where several of the students were parents and occasionally had to bring their preschoolers to class and honestly, those kids were better behaved than some of my classmates, but the kids were also well bribed with food and coloring books, and only the ones the parents knew could behave for 50 minutes ever came to class.)

        2. Ellis Bell*

          We still need a solution for how expensive and inaccessible childcare is, but this is not the rug to push it under. Childcare is expensive because it’s draining and focused hard work.

        3. GythaOgden*

          Not really. The pandemic didn’t change the need for focused work, to be able to hear people on the phone (it was hard for me as an in-person receptionist to get used to having background noise in reception; I thought I was going deaf until my therapist pointed out that my autistic brain was struggling to cope with change in a different direction) and to deliver results. Things have not changed all that much and there is no entitlement to continue as if we’re still juggling an acute crisis.

          This is possibly when the downsides of WFH come out, but there’s no way someone is going to carry you in this respect. Sorry, but you’re gonna have to figure it out.

    11. IDK*

      I agree with this completely, and I’m honestly a bit surprised by all the people replying to you to say that it’s important to not be able to hear kids because it’s a call center. I’ve called plenty of customer service call centers since the start of the pandemic, heard children or pets or family members in the background, and been not remotely bothered by it. Sure, if they’re distracted it’s a problem to address, but as you said: results are the issue there.

      Also: call centers don’t generally pay well, and childcare is generally expensive. I think the letter writer glossed over that a bit with “choosing to keep kids home to save money” but, unless childcare is particularly cheap in their area or their company pays call center staff much better than those I’ve encountered, that is probably going to be a big issue if/when employees are suddenly told their children can no longer be home with them.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I think you’re in a minority here. I work in a related field to customer service and answer calls as about half my job. I try really hard to give a CS agent understanding, even when it’s, say, my internet having been out for 3 weeks and having to negotiate a small payment for alternative arrangements I had to make. I make it clear at times when I’m struggling to hold my temper with the company, because it’s really not the CS agent’s fault that local authority road repairmen cut through legacy telephone cables and the internet wholesaler had to get a specialist team in from the other side of the country to fix it.

        But if they were also grappling with a kid and a dog and receiving deliveries…that would make me feel like they weren’t taking my concerns seriously. And as someone already paying a lot for crap service (and trying to move to fibre, which is taking months and chewing up my AL like the dog I had as a teenager chewing through my mother’s sandals), it’s not going to help me feel valued or respected.

    12. Nelliebelle1197*

      If you have the privilege of working at home your employer indeed has the right to set the parameters

    13. Wintermute*

      I agree– customers are going to have expectations, meeting those is vital to the business, which means customers should not feel you’re distracted or deal with background noise. To a customer it should be no different than if you’re working from a call center.

      And call centers have occasional things happen too, I’ve had fire alarms go off, loud arguments between co-workers (thankfully shut down quickly) and other various things, whether you’re at home or at work there will be **occasional** interruptions but I think the baseline expectation that you will be working as you would from the office from a customer perspective is a decent one.

    14. Lia*

      I don’t care if child care is reasonable in your area. Employers should either create free child care for all employees or just live with the new reality. I do not have children but this whole disregard for family by an entire group of conservative rich white men/women who espouse family values (and employ nannies) and are in power need to come into the 21st Century. The choice is simple: free child care for all who need it at the expense of the employer or just live with the reality of parents taking care of their kids via remote work. Of course, they’d choose the home option if they can save money. I’ll bet many of these employees need to make a decision between feeding their kids, paying rent, or child care. Sorry to sound so harsh but I am annoyed by this debate (not here). The choice is simple. I know day care centers are expensive, but does your company/university really need to pay the CEO a gazillion dollars a year?

      1. foobar*

        You realize there are tons of businesses that aren’t run by CEOs that earn gazillions of dollars a year, right? Like your local restaurant, barbershop, etc.? Childcare would destroy them financially. You might say, well, you can’t afford to be in business, but I suppose you don’t mind if you have no small businesses in your town, only chain outlets who can absorb the cost?

        Tying child care to employment is as stupid an idea as healthcare is. What happens if you switch jobs, or if your employer only sponsors a really crappy daycare you don’t like? Childcare should be at the government level, not employer-level.

  2. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I want to underscore giving people some grace. You say childcare is reliable, but demand is going to go up since you are not the only employer making this decision. Additionally, it can be a big cost for people to absorb if they aren’t expecting it – and it doesn’t sound like they are, if this is a “perk” in their minds.

    Also COVID is not over. Childcare is still falling through for people. Just move forward with kindness. Your request is reasonable but the situation is difficult.

    1. Pants*

      This.

      Regardless of how available child care is, it may not be financially achievable to pay for said child care. Child care is insanely expensive, often prohibitively so. I have several friends who have become Stay-At-Home-Parents because the loss of a salary is less than the amount it would take to put the children into daycare.

      If this company is going to insist its remote workers put their kids in daycare during working hours, they should pay for it.

      1. Colette*

        That’s not really a thing many companies do, and it’s not reasonable to expect this company to do it. By the same token, the company can say “this is a remote job” and not pay for a larger living space. It is a requirement to have child care. The employees can choose to pay for it, or they can find a job that doesn’t require it (or decide they aren’t able to work).

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Which is what has been happening and why there is a worker shortage and women dropping out of the workforce. Sure, a company isn’t obligated to pay for childcare, but they might want to consider it if they are having issues with staffing and they notice the parents of young kids are quitting

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              But they might want to consider that their solution could cause this pretty predictable problem, especially if childcare isn’t affordable (call center work is notoriously low paid) or available to their employees and at least think of ways to avoid it.

                1. Jen*

                  Yeah, it seems like a risk they’re willing to take. Presumably if they have trouble filling vacancies, they can revisit childcare policies at that point.

                2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  True, and I’m suggesting she have a Plan B or some ideas if she loses all or most of these folks and think of how big a disruption it is going to be. Call center jobs are notoriously underpaid, so child care may not actually be an option for the workers even if there are plenty of daycare places. A friend is a manager in a similar set up to the LW who had to make similar changes. They estimated losing 50% of employees and ended up losing all the parents+some non-parents who didn’t want to be working in an understaffed call center. They had 130% turnover and are still recovering 6 months later. They ended up having to offer a child care stipend and still can’t staff because their wages are still too low. Friend is looking for a new job

        2. MF*

          I wouldn’t say that companies should pay for childcare–it’s not the norm in our society for employers to shoulder the financial cost for an employee to work. Similarly, it’s generally not done for an employer to pay for an employee’s business wardrobe.

          However, I do think that if employers want to retain working parents, they need to offer salaries that are a livable wage and take the cost of childcare into account.

          1. EmbracesTrees*

            Hm. As a mom, I would argue that I chose to have children, so *I* should pay for those expenses.

            1. louvella*

              But if your job doesn’t pay you enough to afford childcare, why would you keep working there? Do you think you’re obligated to keep a job where you would be losing money?

            2. agirlhasnoname*

              This feels like it veers into “only have kids you can afford” territory, which is a nextdoor neighbor with “poor people can’t procreate/sexual intimacy is a luxury for the upperclass.”

              This is a social problem that needs public sector solutions, but it sadly looks like that’s not going to happen in the US any time soon. “If employers want to retain working parents, they need to offer salaries that are a livable wage and take the cost of childcare int account” is an extremely reasonable statement in a ruthlessly capitalistic economy.

            3. Very Social*

              But if you chose to have children under the impression that your employer allows you to work from home while caring for those children as a perk, that calculation is different from if you chose to have children knowing you would need external childcare.

              1. meggus*

                Y’all, in a time where Roe v. has been reversed and many, many women are now denied any choice in having or not having a child, we need to rethink our language. “Choosing” to have a child is a privilege for many,.

      2. Snow Globe*

        “ If this company is going to insist its remote workers put their kids in daycare during working hours, they should pay for it.”

        That’s…an interesting take. Pre-Covid employers almost always expected employees to arrange and pay for their own child care; why would they need to start paying for care when employees are remote?

        1. ferrina*

          Seconding. This was not a benefit the company agreed to provide, it’s not something that the employees negotiated for, and it’s frankly so rare that the employee has no expectation that any employer will provide it (unless the employer says otherwise).

          1. Noblepower*

            Yes, and some of the benefits of working from home include saving money on a commute that is no longer happening, so theoretically, it opens up the money they’d have spent on transport to/from the office.

        2. Lana Kane*

          Right? Pre-covid I spent thousands of dollars over the years on childcare because I had to work. Had I suggested that my employer should pay for it if they wanted me to work there, I would have been laughed out of this comment section.

          1. Pants*

            Honestly, I think all companies should, at the very least, give a subsidy to help cover child care to every employee and I thought this before Covid. A lot of countries around the world pay far more than the $500 tax credit for child care. In the US, our health care and child care are far inferior to other countries in the world. It’s shameful.

      3. lilsheba*

        YES! They should pay for it. Paid child care would make it so much better for parent everywhere!

        1. A*

          Federally subsidized, yes – but this is not a realistic expectation to put on employers. The vast majority of the more ethical companies I’ve worked for would never be able to afford this. Not to mention that it would essentially eliminate any possibility of people starting their own companies if bringing on employees comes with the required expense of not only salary + benefits but also full time child care for however many kids they may have.

          This is a macro level systemic issue.

        2. LittleMarshmallow*

          I’m pretty sure that would just lead to companies not hiring parents… I know it would still be illegal to “discriminate based on family status” but if you make it financially painful for a business to have parents working for them you can bet they’ll find ways to screen them out.

      4. Abigail*

        Hard disagree.

        Employers are not responsible for paying for day care. I am a single mother with 2 elementary aged kids and never, not for one second of the pandemic, have I ever expected this.

        1. Clefairy*

          Yeah, I agree- like, it would be SO NICE, but that’s a huge business cost. I think lots of businesses that currently do right by their employees (Generous pay/pto/benefits) would crumble under financial strain if this were a requirement to employ parents remotely.

          I think the real issue is how freaking expensive daycare is, it’s highway robbery.

          1. Sal*

            What’s REALLY crazy is how expensive daycare is, yet how poorly remunerated daycare owners/operators/teachers are. When you look at the math, it just becomes so clear that government needs to subsidize early childhood care–many families cannot absorb that cost into a household budget in any reasonable way.

          2. Abigail*

            It has to be the insurance, right?

            I don’t think daycare/preschool teachers are driving new Tesla’s.

              1. Anonymous*

                Probably not. The legal and ethical burdens of childcare are pretty onerous and it’s one of those things you can’t cut corners on (particularly staff to child ratio). The greedy owners are the ones who don’t spend money on the kids, but my workplace has a creche on site and it’s not cheap to run. Many places are actually going under because of the disparity between what people can pay and the money it takes to finance the care.

                As a trained accountant I can’t help but see the cost related to things that we expect other people to pay for. Try running your own business for a while if it helps — it makes much more sense when you can see everything laid out before you.

            1. Cassandra Mortmain*

              I think it’s mostly that childcare is very, very labor-intensive. The math pencils out pretty well that if one worker is only watching 3-4 kids (and ratios are legally mandated), plus rent and general business overhead, it can both be wildly expensive for the family AND poverty wages for the carer. It’s a mess!

              1. Filosofickle*

                Yeah, I think this is the crux of it for all types of caregiving. No one is getting rich off it, and the wages are far too low for the caregivers which causes burnout, poor care, and churn. Yet very few families could afford to pay any more, they can’t afford it already. Subsidies are the only way out of this deadlock.

              2. TechWorker*

                Plus if take into account things like PTO, sickness, shift lengths the number of employees actually needs to be slightly more than the mandated ratio. Plus someone has to manage and organise the whole thing.. I don’t think it’s the worlds most profitable business.

                1. Lost academic*

                  It is not. I read an excellent breakdown early in the pandemic. Childcare centers of all sizes operate on razor thin margins.

              3. AcademiaNut*

                Yes – it’s basic math.

                Given that the ratio of caregivers to children is set by law, how do you pay a childcare worker enough money to make a living wage *and* be able to afford childcare themselves?

                Pay childcare workers more, the cost of childcare goes up, and lower wage workers can’t afford it. Lower costs of childcare, you have to pay the workers less, and they can’t live on the wages.

                You need subsidies of some sort at the government level to make this work.

          3. Pants*

            I don’t know, I think a LOT could be taken straight from the ridiculous salaries of CEOs. All the golden parachute clauses in the Ivory Towers C-Suites contracts would also help.

            My last job, the CEO was quietly shuffled out with a $7m golden parachute when he was caught taking upskirts of women in his office during meetings. Security & Compliance helped cover up the entire thing. I was in the latter department. Lost all respect for my boss.

      5. very anon*

        People make choices. Sometimes those choices result in expenses. People should not expect anyone to pay the expenses their choices incur.

        1. SoloKid*

          Expect, no, but if employers want to remain competitive they need to think about different options.

          I didn’t expect pet insurance or expect a 100% subsidized transit pass (both pets, and living way out of town are my choice) but my employer looks better for having to offer them.

          1. Education Mike*

            But employers don’t need to offer daycare to stay competitive. For most employers, that money would likely be better spent to increase salaries, which they can use to attract and retain all employees, not just those who have a young child and no stay-at-home partner. It’s unlikely that a huge expenditure for a small group of people is going to be the best way to get a competitive edge.

            1. SoloKid*

              I’m not hearing that parents are “a small group of people”.

              The companies around me that offer childcare (subsidized and onsite) have it listed first on their benefits websites, and all the parents that work there gush about it. I think it would absolutely drive competition.

              1. I am Emily's failing memory*

                Parents aren’t a small group, but working parents with pre-school-aged children are a small group. Looks like in 2021 in the U.S. there were about 12.5 million households with children 5 or under. Out of about 130 million total U.S. households, that’s less than 10% of U.S. households, and some portion of those 12.5 million households have a stay-at-home parent.

                From a social welfare standpoint, I think it’s great when companies provide childcare, but from a business standpoint there are better options if the goal is just to remain competitive as an employer – because the same amount of money it would take to fund that benefit could yield a better ROI if spent on other benefits that would improve their competitiveness with a substantially broader swath of workers than just parents and soon-to-be-parents of small children…including just paying everyone more across the board.

                Ultimately I think the government should be subsidizing the costs instead of adding yet another way for employees to be dependent on their employer for basic necessities. Until that happens I applaud the companies that offer it, and the fact that it’s not a slam dunk win from a business perspective to offer it makes me applaud their decision to do it anyway, simply because they think it’s the right thing to do, all the more.

                1. amoeba*

                  But then a company would already become much more attractive by offering childcare stipends/on site childcare etc. way before people actually have kids. I mean, even if I just considered potentially having children in the next few years, that would be a big plus for an employer.

            2. lyngend (canada)*

              Yeah, I would agree that companies should increase everyone’s wage by x amount a month. But I don’t really agree with employers having another benefit people without kids never get.

              1. Eyes Kiwami*

                Yeah why should parents get benefits that people without kids don’t get. And why should women get maternity leave when people without kids don’t get that. People who don’t need wheelchairs should also be provided them. Everything should be exactly the same regardless of need or circumstance.

                1. Lyngend (Canada)*

                  There’s a difference between covering daycare costs and maternity leave and as far as known, employers don’t provide people with wheelchairs.
                  At an average cost it’s going to be at least 500 a month/child (based on local rates where I am). At the one job I had, if I’d wanted to go to college, I’d have to remain a full time employee and work full time for the entire time, and agree to work for them for x years for each 1k of tuition reimbursement Recieved.
                  Parents also frequently get other favourable treatment. Like its often easier for them to get a flexible work schedule then for non-parents. We’ve had a lot of letters about the difference in treatment between parents and non-parents. (like who is working on holidays, who picks up slack, or is required to work overtime) which is more of what I meant.

                2. Me ... Just Me*

                  Umm. People with wheelchairs aren’t simply “provided them”. There’s no wheelchair fairy that simply hands out stuff to the disabled. We don’t get free hearing aids, either. Crutches, walkers, and other mobility aids aren’t handed out at your local convenience store.

              2. Marie*

                $500 a month in childcare where you live? Lol. Not in the United States for full time M-F, 8a-6p care. Try about $500 a week for a modest program in the suburbs of an average city.

                1. A*

                  Ya in my area it’s ~$2k a month M-F 8am-5pm (!!!), ~$3k a month if you add in pre-day or extended day care which is essentially a requirement unless you have a SAHP, one parent working part time, or working split shifts.

                  None of the employers I’ve worked for would be able to financially cover these expenses for their employees (especially if it was per child, but even if there was a cap of one coverage per employee). This would wipe out pretty much all but the largest corporations in my area, and forget about anyone being able to start their own company or keep mom & pop operations afloat.

                  It needs to be subsidized on the federal level. Putting this expectation on employers undermines the end goal by shifting focus.

        2. KateM*

          There are choices that people don’t make, like having parents. So employer paying for care of elderly parents would make more sense.

          1. TechWorker*

            I mean government paying would make *more* sense. An elderly person with 5 employed children and an elderly person with no children don’t deserve different levels of care.

        3. tessa*

          And sometimes people die in car accidents, and suddenly, working grandparents find themselves parents to small children.

          Life isn’t a vacuum…

        4. Rolly*

          I want society at large to pay for childcare so people have more freedom to work and women in particular are don’t pay costs that we could all share.

          Having kids is a choice and I am very happy to help pay for that through taxes or higher prices. I felt that way even back when I didn’t have one.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Exactly this. I’m happy to pay for childcare and public education *because* I don’t have any children of my own. As I age, I’m going to be relying on other people to provide care for me and it’s in my best interest for my future carers to be well educated people.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              Right! When the water rises, all the boats rise. I want to to live in a healthy and educated society, whether or not I raise kids of my own.

          2. Coffee Bean*

            I would not be so adverse for paying taxes to support people who have kids. But I live in a state where the property taxes are sky high. I am decently paid, but it’s almost not enough to cover expenses in my state. I live in a small house. My husband and I did not purchase property beyond our means. The propert taxes have gotten very high – higher than anybody anticipated. It’s not really an option to move elsewhere, because my husband is in a profession that requires licenses. Moving to another state would require him to be re-licensed which is not practical due his age and to it being cumbersome. Increasing taxes to create affordable child care is not feasible in all states or countries.

        5. Critical Rolls*

          Describing having children as a choice that results in expenses no one else should be responsible for has a lot built into it that is extremely, extremely debatable.

          1. Ben*

            This. Where do people think that other people come from? If you want a society you have to have kids. It’s actually nuts to think the costs and risks of raising children should fall only on their parents if you believe in any kind of social responsibility toward the future. All these people saying things like “if you can’t afford it don’t have kids” might have second thoughts when there are no young people around to keep the world moving in 25 years.

            1. IDK*

              It also develops unfortunate implications – like “poor people shouldn’t have kids” – very, very quickly. I don’t for a second believe that that’s what anyone in this comment section is actually trying to say, but it makes me leery to see the talking points of that argument brought up in the context of employment.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Ooooohhhh, so when people like this say they’re for “family values”, they mean families having a monetary value. I get it now!

              2. agirlhasnoname*

                Yes! Thank you! Maybe I’m just really jaded but all these eugenics adjacent comments about who does and doesn’t/should and shouldn’t deserve to have children are incredibly depressing.

            2. I am Emily's failing memory*

              All these people saying things like “if you can’t afford it don’t have kids” might have second thoughts when there are no young people around to keep the world moving in 25 years.

              I have a hunch they’re the same people who always said, “If you don’t like your minimum wage job, get a different one,” and then found it a rude surprised when minimum wage workers did that and as a result every minimum wage employer is now chronically understaffed.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                IMO, if an employer can’t “afford” to pay their employees a living wage their business model is broken and they should go out of business.

            3. Curmudgeon in California*

              There are a lot of people on this planet. Just from a sustainability standpoint we would be better off having fewer kids. Other people and their kids will move to where their labor is needed.

              I am CF. Yet I always vote for increases to school funding with property taxes, because I don’t want an uneducated populace.

              I’d love for there to be nationwide pre-K in the US. I’d love for there to be government funded daycare. But until we have these things, it’s nuts to expect those without kids or whose kids are grown to subsidize all of the costs of raising someone else’s kids.

              So yes, I would prefer to have fewer young people around polluting the planet. There will still be plenty of people ” to keep the world moving” because a number of religions are all about breeding the next generation of adherents.

              1. amoeba*

                Eh, but then the populations in the US and Europe are actually rapidly shrinking, which already creates all kinds of problems – demographic change is already a real challenge and is only partially ameliorated by immigration (without which we’d already be much worse off). We do actually need more children/young people, and in some countries pretty urgently!

                And, anyway, studies now suggest that by 2064 the world population will actually start shrinking as a whole and the growth is already slowing down quickly.

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  IMO, that’s actually good. The nations with the highest per capita carbon footprint should be shrinking the most. The world population should be shrinking, and sooner than 2064. We have too many people globally for the amount of temperate, arable land area to support. With increased automation, we should be able to get by with fewer people.

              2. Ellis Bell*

                I think it’s fine to have a go at religions for pushing breeding policies in an overcrowded world, but not individual people. Parents don’t always make a deliberate “choice” complete with financial spreadsheets when they go ahead and have a kid. Sometimes babies just happen! Sometimes predicted finances have the arse fall out of them. Until all kids start arriving complete with their own Swiss bank account we need to deal with that reality. Why would we pay for schooling and then deliver kids to schools who aren’t prepared for it because of pre school neglect? If we help preschoolers get properly socialised, it’s the foundation for their schooling which will be cheaper and easier later. So basically we are voting for an educated (and well socialized) populace if as a society we start raising kids better, younger. Or, we could just leave the poor ones on screen time while their parents make minimum wage.

            1. GythaOgden*

              One way the British government did it was to expand school ages downwards to 3-4 year olds. That’s not all the way down to where it’s needed, of course, but it was implemented while I was overseas for a couple of years 20 years or so ago and I was pretty impressed. Hopefully the other lot will get in next time round and re-examine everything, as boy howdy have diminishing returns kicked in for the current shower.

              As an English tutor out in Poland I did get a lot of questions about emigration t to the UK from people who were using me to practice conversation. One woman couldn’t believe we started kids at school the term they turned 5 (that was before I found out the above) — she kept asking me to repeat it. School age in Poland is 7, but with mandatory kindergarten at 6, and she was obviously worried about the cost of childcare because her kid was 5.

              I remember we went to playgroups and childminders before that but that was nearly forty years ago so I’m a bit hazy on the specifics, but as an October birthday I could start school fully in September (of 1984). My sister, born in May, had to wait until after Easter the year she was 5, which frustrated my mum, a teacher who wanted her kid to have the benefit of the full year at school (possibly because SHE wanted to start HER teaching properly on time).

              I don’t hate kids — my nephews are lovely little boys — but gosh this thread is making me feel better about not having wanted to have them and having that choice. I fully support anyone trying to get a better deal with childcare and it’s where my vote’s going at the next election.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Yeah, I’m CF, but I support good childcare and education provided at taxpayer expense. It is more beneficial in the long term to spend money on that that to buy an F-35 boondoggle jet.

        6. meggus*

          Again, in a time where Roe v. has been reversed, many, many women are now denied any choice in having or not having a child. Let’s be realistic about this.

      6. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah, I know we should take LWs at their word but I wanted to push back on that assertion also. Available meaning there’s openings, but my childcare bill is my single biggest expense every month, higher than my mortgage on a reasonably priced (and that’s not feasible for many people. Part of availability is affordability, and if this LW is in the US I doubt that its both available and affordable.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Gah, hanging sentence “higher than my mortgage on a reasonably priced home (for our area)” is what I meant to say.

        2. Meganly*

          Same here; I pay a bit over $4k a month on childcare, and that’s pretty average for my area unless you’re going to a home daycare (half of which closed during the pandemic). It’s double my mortgage.

      7. Education Mike*

        It’s not LW’s job to solve the crisis of lack of affordable childcare in the US. Covid aside, there has always been an expectation that if you have a child, you will have to pay for childcare, and it might be very expensive. It’s still reasonable to ask employees to be focused and not caring for children during the work day.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          This. I’m sympathetic to the fact that this is a challenge at the best 0f times, but LW did not create this challenge.

          Who are these people who are baffled that if you have a child, that child will at certain life stages need care, and the person providing that care likely can’t be also working full time elsewhere as they are caring for the child? This is not a new thing.

          And why are people acting like it’s news that it’s not your employer’s responsibility to manage your child care, AND your employer will still expect your regular commitment to your job as long as you are employed there? Your child is your responsibility, not your job’s.

          Having a child is expensive and time-consuming. That needs to be part of the calculus when you decide to have a child. If you didn’t know that when you had a child, then I don’t know what to tell you. People can have all of the children they want, but then they need to be able to manage the care of those children.

          We all have choices; we just are not entitled to love all of our choices.

          And note, I don’t really care about a little background noise. I even would be supportive if a colleague had the world’s lowest-maintenance child and a job that could be done in spurts such that their productivity stays high, and so they don’t really need child care. If someone really could manage both obligations seamlessly-ish, then more power to them. But if that were the case most of the time, we would not be having this conversation.

          1. Lex*

            Well, good thing we have reproductive rights at the federal level in the US, so people can choose when to have children!

            Oh, wait…

            1. ATP*

              Recognizing that there are some cases where pregnancy is not a choice (and in those instances I think it’s indefensible not to allow people to terminate those pregnancies), for the vast majority of people, pregnancy is a choice.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Bingo. It is my personal opinion that all children should be wanted, chosen and loved, not just a socially imposed “default” that no one can escape. It’s better for the kids, better for the future.

            2. GammaGirl1908*

              …and please note, I make an automatic donation to Planned Parenthood with every paycheck.

      8. Nodramalama*

        What? Come on. A workplace is not a charity. That’s like saying work should pay for transport to the company because fuel is expensive, work should pay for lunch because of inflation. Something being expensive is not a reason for it to be an entitlement.

        1. lyngend (canada)*

          if an employer does see an expense increase one can assume most employees might pay, the employer should increase their compensation to reflect that.

        2. Um*

          There are plenty of employers who pay for transportation, and inflation is (in theory) supposed to be covered by annual salary increases. And LW’s employees expect to be allowed to have their kids at home because they’ve already been allowed to have them home for years; this isn’t a sudden, inexplicable demand.

          1. nodramalama*

            Yes, but it is a perk, not an entitlement that all workers should expect their employers to provide.

            1. whingedrinking*

              There’s a difference between something workers expect and something it might be beneficial for an employer to offer.
              In my country, we have socialized healthcare, so doctors appointments and most treatments are free – but in my province at least, dental, optical, mental health, and prescriptions are not. When I was choosing between two jobs, one employer proudly said they offered insurance – which, oh, didn’t kick in for eighteen months, no exceptions. I went with the one that would put some damn glasses on my face in three. (I absolutely believe our teeth, eyes, and brains should be covered by Medicare, but that’s a rant for another day.)
              The state of my field right now is such that I went into every interview with the serene assurance that I would walk away with a job offer at the least. The one I didn’t choose can claim they don’t have a legal requirement to give me insurance at all, and they’re completely right – but I still went to work for their competitor because they made me the better deal. The free market works both ways.

      9. Carlee*

        If the person was working *in* a call centre, there’s be no children around. Caring for kids is a full-time job – that cannot be done at the same time as a paid full-time job.

        If you want the job, you sort out childcare. Childcare was unavailable during the pandemic, folks made do since *everybody* was effectively on house arrest. That is no longer the case.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Well, the Pandemic isn’t over. People are just behaving like it is.

          I agree that full time child care cannot and should not be done by the same person working a job, and it is true that child care is available again, and is a valuable and needed service. I just don’t want to conflate these truths with the lie that the Pandemic is done.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Well, the Pandemic isn’t over. People are just behaving like it is.

            This, this, a thousand times this.

            What I see happening is that the pandemic is now regarded as endemic, so we “just have to live with it”. Covid is still killing people, and each wave taxes our already overburdened health care system even more. But the voices of capitalism have spoken, and we all know where we stand in that system.

            This is why worker empowerment is so essential, because otherwise we are all stuck being serfs to our feudal corporate overlords, and those overlords have no obligations to us.

            My field doesn’t tend to have unions, but I’m pro union because otherwise corporations have to much power in our lives.

      10. Nelliebelle1197*

        The remote option is a benefit not a necessity. It appears all these employees can be compelled to return to the office. Employers are not responsible for your childcare regardless.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          IMO, employers without remote options where it is doable will be selecting for people who can’t get a remote job, or don’t like remote work. Sure, they can try to “compell” people to return to wasting two or more hours a day commuting, but in some fields people who hate that will just quit and find a remote job.

          But yes, employers aren’t “responsible” for your childcare. Those who wish to retain employees with kids just might want to help provide it as a benefit, though.

      11. Wintermute*

        Call center jobs are fairly low-level work, paying for child care could literally double the cost of these employees and businesses just aren’t going to do that.

        I also think it’s important to focus on the positives here. Call center jobs suck, but they’re upwardly mobile and a bridge out of menial labor into professional jobs for many people (myself included)– it’s a great thing if they’re more accessible and more understanding of occasional disruptions and having to occasionally care for a child.

        Remember the norm in this industry is points-based attendance (and it goes without saying absolutely zero ability to have a child in the office) so a situation that allows for occasional lapses in childcare without costing precious attendance points is actually a significant advancement in the ability of working parents to get and keep these jobs. We can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good and say that if you’re not able to provide full childcare on the company dime you’re not helping.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Plus paying people more without companion increases in productivity simply results in inflation. The current inflation is rooted in costs of materials as well — stuff costs more because of massive problems in the supply chain of grain and oil, due to a messy war between two major commodity exporters.

      12. Jodi*

        Having childcare was a requirement when the parents worked from the office 2 years ago and parents did not expect their employer to pay for it , so why should it be any different working from home?

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This.

          IMO, the problem comes in that childcare has still not rebounded from the pandemic, and the extra costs to mitigate covid risk are not insignificant.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      In addition to specifying a grace period, LW could also consider extending that grace period in an individual basis if the employee can show they have childcare lined up but are on a waitlist. Obviously there would still need to be an upper limit (I once worked at a center where the standard wait list tile was 18 months), but that’s an additional option to support employees transitioning back to more typical before times expectations.

      1. Sal*

        +1

        I started looking for daycares for my now 8 yo when she was 6 months old, for her to enter at 11 months. We were on half a dozen waitlists and only got one spot offered to us in those 5 months–and this was pre-pandemic, and NOT for one of the coveted young baby spots.

      2. straws*

        Yes. When I got pregnant with my now-infant, I told my daycare the same day that I told my mother to make sure my kids were in the same center (our center is amazing and they would have moved mountains to ensure we could have them together, but I didn’t want to make them work any harder than they do).

      3. A*

        Yes, this is what my employer did. We waived the ‘child care required during work hours’ requirement from March 2020 through March 2022. We were notified of the requirement being reinstated 6 months ahead, and employees were required to either have childcare in place or provide proof of being on a waitlist etc. by the implementation date.

    3. HowdyHelp*

      Totally – I think it is also very unfair for the boss, the one with the power, to decide unilaterally that childcare isn’t an issue – when generally, it very much is. Maybe there are plenty of spots available, but it’s not affordable, or some other reason.

      1. Allonge*

        Still, that could mean that this particular job cannot be done by a person who has this issue, not necessarily that the boss is unreasonable.

        1. Jen*

          Exactly. A call center job would be close to dead last on a list of jobs I think someone can do remotely while there are unsupervised young children in the house.

          1. Wintermute*

            precisely. Customers have expectations of their customer experience with a company. If you’re not meeting it they will just leave, especially in a competitive industry. It sounds like the company is being thoughtful here in trying to balance meeting those expectations while still providing as much flexibility as they can.

    4. This Old House*

      And make sure your “grace period” is sufficient. I know that when my office started requiring people to come back to the office, in August 2021, they said they were giving a month’s notice so people had time to find childcare. But . . . if you wanted your kid enrolled in summer camp (the most common summertime childcare for school-aged kids) in August, you needed to have signed up in like April. Which is not to say 4-6 months is required, but be aware of what childcare options actually exist, what waitlists are like, etc. before expecting compliance to be possible.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Wait lists are no joke. My niece was waitlisted at her preschool in the 2nd trimester. She got into preschool at 18 months and only that soon because my nephew was already enrolled (he waitlisted for 2.5 years).

      2. Sal*

        Absolutely agree with this. The lag time on all of this stuff is insane. And LW can make the grace period whatever they want it to be (e.g. a month), I think, so long as there are exceptions for circumstances like these (which may be more common than LW would hope).

      3. Helewise*

        Agreed – my husband’s office announced on a Thursday this summer that everyone needed to be back in-person the following Tuesday. He… did not return that day. Our kids are old enough that it wasn’t a complete disaster, but after two years of COVID they also weren’t prepared for 9 hours on their own without notice.

    5. L-squared*

      I think kindness is good in general. But again, this goes back to having separate standards for parents and non parents, which just isn’t good. If a non parent is expected to have a certain level of availability, focus, etc, I’m not at all for relaxing those standards because someone doesnt’ want to pay for childcare. Again, if this is on occasion, fine. But I’ve definitely had coworkers who blatantly worked less and wouldn’t come to meetins because of childcare issues. It got old

    6. Ben*

      Co-sign all of this. I’d add that for parents of kids under 3 or so, this is the *only* version of working parenthood they have ever known. It has been an extraordinary time to start a family. You might be “going back to normal” for the company, but it will be upsetting the normal order of things for the parents.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Did they? If they have a 2 year old and expect them to start public preK3 in September of 2022 and the company hasn’t given any indication that the current situation is a problem, someone might reasonably conclude they can manage the way things have been going for the remaining 10 months.

        2. Ben*

          Knowing something disruptive might happen and being equipped to handle it smoothly aren’t the same thing.

          If the status quo isn’t working, then they need to change it. But it will be a massive upheaval for these employees.

      1. Allonge*

        Eh – as they are adults who are responsible for little children whose needs change a lot, I would expect this is something they can handle.

    7. Sal*

      All of this. Childcare is enormously expensive and LW should be prepared to lose a great big chunk of their parenting workforce, potentially, if the salaries aren’t high enough to cover childcare+.

      1. Nelliebelle1197*

        So what were these people doing two years ago when they were NOT remote? Part and parcel of having a child is planning for childcare.

        1. snarkfox*

          Right?? I feel like a lot of these comments actually answers all the people who talk about how their boss is forcing them to return to the office “for no reason.” Until I read the comments here, I, too, thought that the managers in jobs that can easily be done remotely that were called back to the office were being unreasonable.

          But after seeing so many comments justifying why parents should be able to care for their baby/toddler while working full-time definitely opened my eyes.

  3. Double A*

    As a parent of young children, this is a completely normal expectation and I think it’s past reasonable to return to it. I would also resent people who are not focusing on their job and also saving thousands of dollars on childcare. That’s not fair to other parents.

    This being said, my kids have been sick CONSTANTLY this year. I am not exaggerating when I say it’s been no more than 2 weeks between illnesses. And there’s literally no childcare for a sick kid. A huge perk of my job is that I can keep working when my kids are sick, but it has unfortunately been at least once ever two weeks this has happened. Another issue is that if I take a day off to care for a sick kid, my work does not slow down and so I have a full day’s work to catch up on when I get back, so missing a day is incredibly stressful. If you want people to use their sick time if a kid does need to stay home, make sure their workload allows for this.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      And make sure they have adequate sick time. Lots of call center jobs don’t have paid leave and those that do probably don’t have enough if schools are still sending kids home for X days after a positive COVID test.

    2. CharlieBrown*

      My solution when the constant exchanging of colds and whatnot started was to rinse all the dish in a mild bleach solution and to spray every surface that got touched (and I mean every surface, from toilet handles to light switches) with Lysol disinfectant spray. When those items became impossible to find during the pandemic, I seriously panicked. I’m glad we’re (seemingly) past that part of the supply chain issues for now.

    3. Double A*

      And before anyone ats me about the challenges: I know! I am in the midst of the meat grinder that is the inadequacy of American childcare. I live in a childcare desert. Our childcare is patched together from multiple sources and bathed in a rich marinade of luck and privilege.

      The system is disgraceful, enraging a failure, but it was a failure before when people were planning to have kids and work. It’s even worse now, for sure. And I think employers should think about how they can help parents and anyone with caregiver ng needs make it work better. But it’s still reasonable to expect people to figure out childcare.

      1. NotRealAnonforThis*

        Both of your statements (the system is a disgraceful, enraging failure and its reasonable to figure out daycare) can indeed be true. I’d very naively hoped that the pandemic would lay this bare to the average person who doesn’t use/need it and that we’d have some sort of cultural shift/change to making sure safety nets/safeguards/something were in place.

        I was very, very, very naive. Sadly.

        We’re back to fighting to be paid for pulling a full shift remotely when my tweens are home on a snow day and its ridiculous roads that the state police are strongly suggesting staying the heck home, because I’m not physically there. ::sigh::

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Unfortunately, for the most part, the people who “got it” before are the same people who “get it” now.

          But there is a vocal contingent who did not and do not, and don’t wanna, and will scream at the top of their lungs to prevent anyone from even having a conversation about childcare being a part of critical infrastructure (see also school funding, running fair elections accessible to all voters, healthcare for all, gun control)

          1. tessa*

            Oh, this. It’s an economic issue for many Americans, and I’m a bit surprised that a certain political party, normally on the side of working families, hasn’t brought this up.

            It is past time for this country to evolve on many things, including affordabile and available child care.

        2. Bee*

          LMAO I also thought there was no way we’d emerge from a national medical crisis where like half the country lost their jobs & health insurance right when they were most likely to need it without radically reimagining the way we handle healthcare, but here we are!!

    4. BubbleTea*

      My son is remarkably resilient to daycare germs, but he kindly brings them home to me and I am floored by them every time. I’ve had so much time off sick lately!

      We moved closer to family so that I had backup for when nursery closed – it was a major problem where we used to live. The new nursery has less of an issue with staffing but is 30% more expensive. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it costs 70% of my take home pay. I can understand why people want to make it work. Personally I couldn’t work with him home – even when he is being looked after by someone else here, I’m distracted.

      1. Double A*

        I think my daughter is getting everything she didn’t get for two years…we didn’t avoid all those colds, we just delayed them.

        Somehow, I have not gotten sick with everything they’re bringing home?? But I can feel it’s wearing on me. Like, my immune system is using extra resources to fight off the germs so while I’m not sick, I’m not running at 100% I’m hoping that we’re just all building super immune systems ha.

        We also rely on family care. It’s wonderful but I do worry about exposing my 70 year old parents to everything under the sun (except covid somehow?!)

    5. Anonymous*

      For me, at least, working while looking after a sick kid is a lot easier than one that is healthy and full of energy. If my kid is home sick I’ll loosen up screen time restrictions and plonk them in front of PBS kids in their dinosaur sleeping bag and let them zone for the day, which actually lets me get plenty of work done. I don’t work from home anymore unless me or the kid is sick, and I consider it a big benefit of my job that I can do those things when I need to.

      1. ferrina*

        Seconding! When my preschooler is sick, I can plop her in front of the tv for a couple hours at a time. When she’s healthy, she runs amok (she’s extremely independent and self-sufficient; she’ll be a CEO someday, but right now it’s “Gah! Tell me before you get out the paint! Wait, what do you mean you washed your dolls’ hair with Vaseline?”

        1. Double A*

          Please tell my 4 year old that when she is sick, she needs to slow down! Her best quality is her sunny disposition. The flip side of this is that nothing ever brings or slows her down including illness so when she’s home sick it’s definitely distracting! TV does mitigate some of it but I sure wish she would, I don’t know, NAP like a normal sick person.

          1. J*

            My 7-year-old is like this. When he’s sick he somehow doesn’t lose any energy. He’s running around like always, except he’s feeling terrible and whining while doing it. I don’t understand how he manages.

    6. Flowers*

      Co sign on the being sick. My daughter started daycare in May and has been sick pretty much every holiday. Last month she was in daycare for a total of 5 days? and yet another issue this week. and in addition to that, she’s also special needs so we’ve been doing therapy and evaluations and early intervention etc.

      I’m “lucky” in that my husband’s self employed so he can work around it and that my workload is still pretty light that I’m not buried when I come back, but it has been a hugely stressful last few months.

    7. Overeducated*

      This is so true. In offices like mine where there isn’t a “sick kid” exception, i.e. we’re supposed to take leave instead of telework in that case, it’s really important to have enough sick leave to deal with this constant wave of illnesses, which is WAY more than the norm. I think it might seem unbelievable to people who aren’t dealing with it. It’s been an average of every 3 weeks for the last year here; I don’t know what I’d do if I were a new employee, or straight back from unpaid maternity leave, and didn’t have a good reserve of sick time carried over. So there’s a justification for a sick kid exception for employers that don’t want to offer unlimited or very generous sick leave.

  4. Lelu*

    Alison’s wording is great!
    We are back in the office but can work from home in case of illness, sick kids and other similar exceptions and I find it SO stressful to be at home with my littles, especially my under 2. I’m so much less productive and they aren’t as happy either! At daycare they have friends and activities and be as loud as they want!
    Some people might be OK with this but it’s a very reasonable expectation for your company to set now that childcare is more readily available. You may lose employees but you really were very gracious and flexible for a long time!

    1. Coffee Bean Counter*

      I agree, I have little kids too and it isn’t reasonable to have children rely on you for full time care while working. When they are sick, that’s one thing but I can also see how I’m a client facing job that even pushes the limits.

      1. Almost done*

        We’re having so much trouble with this too. Somehow it seems to have become acceptable to try and work full time and care for a toddler at the same time at home. That is just not okay. I know child care is expensive and hard to find but it’s unfair to the company and to the child to try to do full time jobs at once. I really like Alison’s wording and making a distinction between the exception and the rule.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          I would argue it never really became acceptable, it’s just been tolerated due to a mix of compassion and pragmatism in the face of a problem that had no other ready solution.

          I’ve been getting terrible customer service pretty much everywhere for the last 2 years. I still leave almost 2x bigger tips than I did pre-2020 and rate every gig worker and service representative 5 stars no matter how badly they F up. I think underperforming employees should be coached and managed and paid a living wage throughout, or they should be let go. But so many corporations have decided that instead of developing employees, they’d rather employ tipped and contract workers whose incomes are wholly dependent on the largesse of customer tips and whose access to work opportunity is wholly dependent on the mercurial whims of customer ratings, that for many products/services there is literally no alternative option, even if you are very willing to pay more to hire a company that has employees and compensates them well, there is no such company that exists.

          I don’t think the customer service I’ve been getting for the past 2 years is acceptable, but I tolerate it because the alternative is to be complicit in worker abuses, which is far, far more unacceptable to me than receiving crappy customer service from poorly treated workers.

  5. TimeToo*

    Do you have the option of offering some sort of child-care stipend or related benefit that could ease some of the cost? In addition to just being a good idea, it will probably go a long way towards easing some the annoyance many of your employees will feel at having a supposed “benefit” taken away.

    1. Beebee*

      I mean it’s not really a benefit if it was temporary during COVID to respond to an emergency situation. It was a bandaid solution.

      1. Chickaletta*

        I like the wording of the second statement provided by Alison because it’s more catch-all and results oriented. It could be read to include things like yippy dogs, roommates watching loud tv, spouses making loud in the kitchen cooking dinner, children, neighbors playing the tuba… The idea being that a quiet place free from distraction is what you really want, not to punish parents. And if anyone is uncomfortable limiting other types of noises, then it’s not really noise you want to control but parents. And that’s an issue.

  6. Annie J*

    As someone who works in a CallCenter, I really do believe they must be a circle of hell Dante forgot to include in inferno.
    I think if the interruptions are happening often and they are really a distraction for the customers calling in, something needs to be done but I would hope that customers who call-in also have a bit of empathy, I mean hearing a kid ask for juice while you’re having a conversation with a customer service rep isn’t the worst thing in the world surely?
    As for toddlers in lapse, I guess they could be a distraction to other people in the training group but really they shouldn’t be, if the microphone is muted.
    I also think that when we are talking about call centres, they tend to be a lot less well-paid than other office jobs I can think of so I can’t imagine that the average CallCenter employee can afford the standard daycare costs, that might just be me projecting but I know that cost for daycare in the UK are extremely high and I can only imagine it’s the same across the pond.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      The thing of it is, though, that when I call my bank, I really want that person on the other end to be 100% focused on the issue I called about. It isn’t fair to me as the customer or to the kid.

      1. Rolly*

        I don’t want to live like that. I want to live in the world where if a person sometimes is not 100% focused, that’s OK.

        Not when flying a plane. Not with a kid bugging them every 5 minutes.

        But a kid popping into meetings at a low rate – say hearing something once every couple hours – no big deal. One out of ten customer service calls hearing a kid. Whatever. That’s good. That’s human.

        1. Heather*

          Sure, and that might be the frequency if, for example, an eight-year-old is home sick from school and needs occasional help or check ins. But that usually won’t be the impact of someone trying to work while looking after an infant or toddler full time.

        2. Grace*

          The issue is, when I call my bank (or airline, or hotel, or anyone else), it’s usually about something really important to me. No, “what is this new charge and why is it there” or “do you have space to extend my stay by two days” isn’t as important as flying a plane, but I don’t want the customer service person to be focusing partially on that and partially on changing the baby’s diaper, making their kid a sandwich, or setting up Peppa Pig videos. If it’s random background noise, sure, but I want a customer service person to be focused on dealing with my issues, not theirs, while they’re working. (Yes, I have worked customer service. Yes, this was the policy where I worked too. Yes, I think that was reasonable.)

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Also, the way life often goes, if I’m calling one of those companies, it’s often during MY workday where I’m grabbing 10 minutes to sort a financial issue out during hours when the bank is open. It may not be life and death, but it’s important to me.

            If I were retired and had time available to have a 10 minute call take twice as long while the guy at the end of the phone deals with his toddler’s spilled drink and goldfish crackers, or gets his barking dog under control after the mailman comes, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem and I’d likely have patience. But since I’m not and have limited time myself to deal with the stuff of life while working full time and juggling care and other responsibilities for my family members in my “off” hours, I’d rather the person who shows up in the phone queue is there because they are ready and able to do what they are on the phone to do and is not multitasking on something unrelated (particularly if it’s something that is stressing them out, or getting on their last nerve which with kids and pets is not completely unlikely)

          2. ferrina*

            Exactly. I only call when there’s a big deal for me. Yes, I can be patient for a minute so you can read about my account and give me the best information, but I don’t want you distracted by something major (whether it’s your kid or your boss talking to you). Studies have repeatedly shown that we don’t multitask as well as we think we do, and it’s reasonable to want full attention from a client services rep.

            1. ferrina*

              Ironically, I also advise parents not to expect full attention from a daycare worker when they are in the classroom. The daycare worker is focusing on the kids and you at the same time; you really don’t want them to ignore the kids to focus 100% on you (just like you wouldn’t want them ignoring your kid while they talked to another adult). Even if it’s only one or two kids in the room, one eye is always on the kid(s)

        3. L-squared*

          I think the frequency of this, and how the person handles it is an important distinction. If I’m calling to handle a financial issue, and you have to keep pausing to deal with your child, that is going to piss me off, and I’ll likely at that point use that “would you be open to a survey” option to comment on it.

          Work time is work time. I understand on occasion emergencies come up. But as someone who is customer facing, I need to separate those things out as minimize it as much as possible.

        4. Maggie*

          I mean maybe, but I bet if you were conducting a conversation with say an insurance rep about a denied claim for thousands of dollars, you might want them paying attention. Call centers don’t just deal with minor customer service issues

        5. Ex-Teacher*

          >I don’t want to live like that. I want to live in the world where if a person sometimes is not 100% focused, that’s OK.

          You’re the exception, not the norm if you really believe this.

          But you’re forgetting something- It’s okay if someone is sometimes unfocused, but not when they’re actively involved in a job. I don’t care if a pilot is checked out when we’re all at cruising altitude and just moseying along, but I sure as hell care if they get distracted when they’re actively landing the plane. While I know that a call center worker isn’t doing something that critical, I don’t want them zoning out when I tell them my specific problem because then I have to tell them again, or fix more problems caused by their flawed understanding. They can zone out all they want between calls, but it’s 100% reasonable for me to want them focused when they’re doing the main work of their job.

          1. tessa*

            So when their kid is home sick, what do you expect?

            I understand the annoyance over a routine disruption, but when you’re a customer, how can you be certain that the day you call a worker at a company happens to be the one time out of the year the kid is sick?

            What do you suggest a single parent do?

            Yeesh…

            1. foobar*

              I think it’s one thing if your child is sick and home for one or two days. That is different and an exception to the norm. The discussion here is about not having childcare, all the time.

              1. L-squared*

                Right. I think people are conflating these 2 things. A sick kid that happens on occasion? Sure. IN fact, as I said someplace else, companies should try to build in abilities for that to work. But that is very different that caring for a child at home daily.

                1. Jaydee*

                  I agree that people are conflating those things. But also, employers can do A LOT to prevent their employees feeling the need to work with a sick kid at home.

                  – Offer adequate paid sick leave and allow employees to use it when their kids are sick.
                  – Hire enough staff that having an employee or two out for a couple days on sick leave doesn’t disrupt the business
                  – Have an attendance policy that doesn’t penalize employees for using sick leave (e.g. not incredibly strict, points-based policies)

        6. Ruby Blue*

          Hope you’re OK with the banker screwing up your deposit and costing you fees because their sick toddler was crying, your insurance claim being denied because the agent misunderstood you due to their five year old having a meltdown, and your repeat prescription being wrong because the doctor’s receptionist wasn’t fully focused due to their hangover. You won’t complain, demand compensation, or leave negative feedback, right? They weren’t fully focused on you, but that’s OK with you. Right?

          1. Yorick*

            If the representative isn’t listening carefully, they miss stuff. At best, you have to keep repeating yourself, which is frustrating and can make the call take a long time – which can have its own consequences too. At worst, there can be serious repercussions like Ruby Blue’s examples.

          2. Rolly*

            You’re building straw men.

            Does my banker lock himself in a room so no one can interrupt him at his office so my mortgage application is not wrecked?

            Get serious. I’m not saying I want people working for me actively trying to do that while a kid is freaking out in their arms. I’m saying if someone I work with sometimes (rarely, but sometimes) says “Excuse me, I’ve got to go on mute for a moment” and then tells their 8 year old to go to the fridge. Or even someone sometimes has to hand me off to someone else due to a home emergency, that’s a reasonable thing.

            People work *all* *the* *time* without 100% focus, and when distractions get big they step back (and waste my time in a way).

            So yes, I am totally fine with people not being 100% focused on me. I just want them to do the job right, and if occasionally they have to slow down due to something else distracting them (a kid, a boss, a police siren outside the office, the internet dropping, them barfing due to a bad lunch), that’s fine.

            And frankly, I prefer a world in which the doctor’s receptionist gets some slack from having a hangover and is allowed to work more slowly, or maybe not even come in, than a world in which they have to be 100% but actually will lie about it because no slack is built into the working environment. That’s way worse.

            1. L-squared*

              I do think there is a bit of a difference between “my coworkers are being loud” or “a fire truck just pulled up outside and there is a siren” and “I have to go deal with a crying baby”

            2. ScruffyInternHerder*

              Considering in the past two months I have spent an exorbitant amount of my time un-effing-up a bank’s and a pharmacy’s utter and complete eff ups, I don’t think that these are great examples. These eff ups happened with in-person staff who arguably weren’t minimum wage.

              Mistakes happen.

            3. Potted Plant*

              Do you have children?
              I doubt anyone’s policy needs to include eight year olds honestly. They’re fine. The majority of them can be home and it will only be ‘occasional interruptions’. But a two-year-old or three year-old needs an adult, and honestly it’s not fair to young children to have their parents constantly occupied during the day and it’s not fair to the workplace, because 2 year olds are going to create FREQUENT interruptions at a minimum.

        7. BethRA*

          “One out of ten customer service calls hearing a kid. Whatever. ”

          I think that’s easy to say when you’re not that one caller who needs help from the person being distracted.

          1. Yorick*

            And one out of ten customers is a lot! The company’s reputation is really gonna suffer if 10% of callers aren’t getting high quality help.

              1. Yorick*

                Those customers’ perception is going to be that they’re not getting quality help. Rightly or wrongly.

              2. GammaGirl1908*

                I don’t think it’s a jump at all; I think it’s exactly what we’re discussing. Kids at home = likely distracted adult / adult not focused enough on work / employer not getting what they’re paying for.

                The fact that the customer can HEAR the kid is only a small part of the problem; the noise just makes what’s going on more obvious.

        8. Allonge*

          I want to live in the world where if a person sometimes is not 100% focused, that’s OK.

          Luckily this is already the world we live in.

          But there is a difference between someone being a bit tired and having to ask you to repeat a number just to be sure and someone who is tired AND needs to ask you to stop talking because their toddler is maybe experimenting with how far you can reach into an electric outlet/the dog’s mouth.

          And yes, in this case I would want them to stop the toddler. But if this happened more than once, I would also take my business elsewhere pretty soon. And it’s not unreasonable for managers to consider this.

        9. snarkfox*

          Yeah maybe I’m just a bad person, but if I’ve already been waiting on hold for half an hour to dispute a charge with my insurance company because I’ve been billed an extra $200 that I can’t afford and I’m using my dwindling lunch break to make the phone call, I don’t want to share the attention of the person helping me with their toddler needing juice.

          1. A*

            Not a bad person. This is a macro level systemic issue, and it’s infuriating when the expected solution is placed on the shoulders of customers and/or employers. It undermines the end goal by shifting focus from the (IMO) only viable long term solution – government subsidized childcare.

            I try and be patient and understanding, but I’m right there with you. At this point in the pandemic I’m not on board with the idea that it should be ‘no big deal’ that the CS rep I finally got connected to needs to get their kids some juice (honestly I think this is a terrible example, but I’m working off the one that was already thrown out there).

        10. Wintermute*

          I understand, and I think there’s some middle ground, but one thing you learn fast working customer service is you’re dealing with people on a bad day. They have a problem, it might be a big problem, something important, their cell phone isn’t working, their bank account has unexplained charges, they got in a car wreck and need to make a first report of loss, they have a loved one who is sick and need to get insurance pre-authorization, **important things**.

          I don’t think anyone can expect 100% focus, even if you’re sitting in a call center you might really have to pee, or your shoes are pinching, or you’re mentally planning where you’re going for lunch, or you had a fight with your teenager that morning, or any number of other things.

          But when someone is your guide through a process or your interface to important information then you have every right to expect at least 85-90% attention, and your employer is paying them to provide that to you.

        11. Ellis Bell*

          Okay, but that difference – between a highly interruptive child, and one you might just hear occasionally – will be filtered by the age limits OP proposed.

        12. That One Person*

          Agreed that little one (or two) offs wouldn’t be bad, but my guess is that they also don’t want to seem like they’re favoring people in this regard either. Parents of future opera/heavy metal singers don’t want to feel singled out compared to the parents of quiet playtime children. It’s also rough to focus sometimes when the parents’ senses are tingling that it’s too quiet…

      2. curmudgeon*

        Or if I’m calling my online pharmacy, I need to know the person is paying attention so I get the right meds / there isn’t a delay in filling them because they made a mistake.

          1. Mahkara*

            Some do, yes. My brother (a pharmacist) works from home several days a week. (He can answer doctor’s phone calls via phone, examine prescription interactions, etc.)

      3. Annie J*

        But when you call a call centre, do you really think that the person on the other end is 100% invested in what you’re saying?
        If it’s the middle of the day, the chances are that the person has spoken already to 20 or 30 other people with the same issue as you, and will speak to another 20 or 30 more until the end of the shift, I know I’ve done it myself and the reality is that you just can’t focus on one person like that.
        If you call at the end of the day the person is just waiting for you to hang up so they can finish their shift and clock out.
        And I also think personally that it’s much worse for the kid for the parent to lose the job .

        1. CharlieBrown*

          These metrics have much more to do with how call centers are managed and what is expected of their workers. As a former call center worker myself, I get that. I also try to avoid calling call centers at all costs as a result.

          They are dehumanizing places to work.

        2. Colette*

          Would having a child who needs attention help the call centre employee focus?

          Children – particularly younger children – need attention, and activities, and can’t always wait until you’re off the phone. While you might not mind a bellow of “I’ve got to poop right now!”, it’s not really what I want to hear when I’m talking with my bank or technical support – particularly if the person I’m talking to has to leave to go deal with it.

          And frankly, it’s not fair to the child to be at home, but to have to be quiet all the time and have no interaction with their parent. It’s also not great to plop them in front of the TV so that they can be quiet.

          1. Stitch*

            Yep, I have a 3 year old. He can get himself in a dangerous situation in seconds. He’ll yell “I have to pee!”

            When he had the flu last month I was able to get him to fall asleep watching movies and get work done but he was very unusually sleepy/lethargic because of the flu.

            1. Colette*

              Yup, that’s 3 year olds for you.

              When my niece was 5 months old, her mother and I walked into the other room while she was on a blanket on the floor. She picked that moment to learn how to push herself backwards, and we spent a few panicked moments looking for her before we found her wrapped around a table leg.

              Kids are great! But that doesn’t mean they are mini-adults who are capable of caring for themselves. They need an adult available to care for them.

              If it were a different kind of work – i.e. cooking, laundry, etc. – you could engage even a small child to help. But working a computer job is not something you can engage the child in.

        3. Poppyseeds*

          Yeah….but here is the thing, I called a call center this past weekend and found myself having to explain my question multiple times. There was no background noise and I was attempting to get clarification on a reissued credit card after the information on the first was stolen. No background noise but I never got the answer either. I was pretty frustrated but never short or angry with the person on the other end. However, I think it would have been much more difficult if the person on the other end was distracted by goings on in the room. I feel like parenting is a full-time job and trying to do two full-time jobs is very challenging and you don’t really do either well.

        4. Rolly*

          “But when you call a call centre, do you really think that the person on the other end is 100% invested in what you’re saying?”

          Yup.

        5. Yorick*

          Yes, I have had bad calls even when I didn’t have evidence that the person was caring for a child. Do I want that to happen again? NO.

      4. Pippa K*

        Also if I called a company for a business reason and could hear someone’s small child asking for juice or crying or something, I would feel like I’d intruded into personal space. The concern about work/personal life overlap isn’t just about wanting “fully focused and productive workers,” it’s also about wanting people’s private spaces to be fully theirs, if you see what I mean.

        1. Qwerty*

          I’m finding that when I call into customer support, the first thing I have to do is reassure and calm the service agent nowadays. The agent is just distracted by the noise of the kid or pet, but the underlying anxiety of trying to keep their child/pet calm and quickly diffuse their household situation. So I lie and claim I don’t hear or pretend to relate or let them put me on hold to deal with their home situation so the agent relaxes and is able to perform their job better.

          Which really shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility. If I’m calling customer service, usually its because the company screwed up and I need someone to fix it. Oftentime the original error came from a previous call where the agent was distracted and entered the data wrong, which is why I do the reassurance routine. It makes me feel like I’m interrupting *their* life.

          1. Yorick*

            Exactly. When I call in it is almost always for something that is really stressful for me. I may have already tried multiple other ways to resolve it. I shouldn’t have to pretend to be fine with hearing a crying child and repeating myself over and over because the representative can’t hear me. They need to be ready to focus on work when I call.

        2. Anon5*

          Personally, I do see what you mean but I find it inappropriately prescriptive of you. If I’m a call center representative on the phone with you, I’m there to reset your password for you or or cancel your auto-pay or whatever. I’m not there to navigate your feelings around what sort of private spaces I ought to want/need/afford/choose.

          1. JSPA*

            If you’re indeed mostly doing “incompetence backup” for PEBCAC problems, fine. No, really–I’m fine with that.

            But “customer service” is a lot of things.

            One of my credit cards was recently cancelled–needlessly–because the company somehow reset my address to someplace where I once had a replacement card delivered, while traveling. Multiple calls over multiple weeks could somehow not sort out the issue. Luckily, it’s not my only card; but if it were, I’d have been truly screwed.

            My bank likewise decided I should submit an updated W-9 showing me resident at an address in, well, let’s just say, not-my-country-of-residence. They were ready to cancel my (multiple) accounts with them (including another of my credit cards), and even, possibly, somehow, demand I pay off my mortgage (????) unless I complied. Luckily, this time, they had focused, competent people on the phones.

            This is also “customer service”–and it’s not particularly compatible with Blue’s Clues and “wanna juicy-juice!”.

            1. Bee*

              Yeah, the last time I had to call customer service was when I discovered my reservation on my flight home from vacation had been canceled, 12 hours before the flight. No one told me this! I just realized I hadn’t gotten an email telling me to check in online. So it’s 8PM, I’m in Ireland, I’m supposed to wake up at 5AM to go to the airport, and I’m low-key panicking that this is going to cost me thousands of dollars while also sagging with relief that this is at least happening in a country where I speak the language. Sometimes it is just resetting passwords, but sometimes it’s reassuring a person that you feel for them and you’re taking the problem seriously. (I was on the phone for over an hour, on hold for at least half of that, but every time the agent came back on the line they were clearly locked in and focused on getting me home, and it made me feel SO much less freaked out.)

          2. Pippa K*

            Ok, well, not asking anyone to “navigate my feelings”. I’m saying I’d like people to have work arrangements that don’t expose their personal space to intrusion by strangers, and I’d like not to inadvertently intrude into such space myself. So perhaps you didn’t see what I meant after all.

      5. I'm just here for the cats!*

        I think it really depends. Is a kid crying and screaming for the entire conversation, then yes that is a problem. Does the parent have to stop talking or put the customer on hold to handle the child, yes that’s a problem. But if you just hear random kid noise, like a kid laughing in the background, or obviously talking to someone else, then that shouldn’t be a problem.

      6. Nick*

        I disagree. It is hard enough to get competent people on the phone. I have sometimes had to call back several times before I get someone on the phone who both cares enough and has the competency to actually resolve the issue I am having. And to use the original comments scenario, that is especially important if the issue will effect my finances. I understand there are call centers for what we might playfully call 1st world problems, like the cable tv going out. But my internet is needed for my job, my money is very important, and there are many other examples I could give that I would want the service rep to be focused and on the ball about.

    2. SoloKid*

      “hope that customers who call-in also have a bit of empathy”

      I mean I wouldn’t say anything over a child piping up once in the background, but I don’t want society to slide into a mode where this is the norm. Reps do understand that most people calling in are at the limits of their frustration, right? Empathy should go both ways.

      1. Wintermute*

        This. The term “emotional labor” has been diluted to uselessness but it was originally used in the academic context to describe how providing empathy is part of the job in customer service roles, part of what you’re being paid for– often the most difficult part of what you’re being paid for.

  7. Coin_Operated*

    I also want to flag, if this is a call center job, call centers are notorious for pushing for really high call outcomes, but also pay really poorly, like minimum wage or slightly above, so it’s no surprise if their employees are choosing to keep their kids at home, they may not be able to afford childcare.

    1. Emily*

      Yeah, and if they’re going to have to pay for child care anyway, they might as well take a different job outside the home that pays more.

      I still think this is reasonable, but I’d definitely expect to have to hire, and you might wind up not being able to replace them at their current wage.

    2. Double A*

      Yeah I don’t have a lot of faith this is very parent-friendly place to work for and I wonder if a lot of people did get these jobs during the pandemic precisely so they could have work and also watch their kids.

      1. foobar*

        Why is it the company’s problem that someone picked a job that is not compatible with having kids at home? If employees don’t like it, they can work somewhere else (although I think most employers will *also* expect you to have your full attention at your job–remote work does not mean you get to devote less attention to your work).

    3. I-Away 8*

      I agree. It is important for call center workers to be in a quiet, distraction-free office, but is it realistic to expect them to have that at home?

      Even if they have a babysitter or family member caring for the kids, you can’t assume they live in a big house where they can go upstairs to their home office and shut the door.

      1. foobar*

        If they don’t have a distraction-free, quiet home environment, then maybe call center work is not a good choice of a career. To me, that is kind of like getting a job that requires driving when you are not able to drive. Not all jobs are a good fit for all people.

    4. ferrina*

      Minimum wage jobs still expect you to find childcare. Daycare workers are often paid near minimum wage, and even they need to find childcare. I used to work at one of the more high-end daycares, and most parents who worked there had to get family support or cheaper daycares with long hours. And it sucked.

      This is a societal structure in the U.S. That’s not something an individual company can change, and it’s not fair to expect someone’s coworkers pick up the slack because they have kids and are choosing not to have childcare (even if that childcare is really, really expensive).
      Side note- this is also why it’s important to have strong education and health care around reproductive choices. Kids are expensive and time-consuming.

        1. Rose*

          Why is it the company’s responsibility to pay for childcare? Yes, I think they need to pay a living wage that will better enable their employees to afford childcare – but I do not think the the company should be expected to explicitly pay for chilcare.

          1. Ruby*

            Childcare enables the employee to work. We are seeing right now in the US what happens when when child care is unavailable or unaffordable.
            We need a new paradigm here.

            1. pieces_of_flair*

              Yes, we do. But the new paradigm should not be relying on businesses to provide even more of what is necessary for the social good. We’ve seen what happens when health care is linked to employment; we get unaffordable, inaccessible, and generally shitty healthcare. These are issues government needs to address, not private employers.

  8. Just Another Zebra*

    I think that returning to kid-free remote work is a reasonable expectation. And Alison’s wording is great! However, as the parent of a young child, there are some factors to consider.

    *Remember that children need to be 6 months old to be vaccinated. It’s very reasonable for parents not to want to send infants into the germ factories that are daycares when we are still in a pandemic.

    *Remember that childcare is scarce. I know you SAY it isn’t in your area – and I’m taking you at your word – but is affordable child care readily available? For my single, 4 year old child, I pay roughly $1,200 / month for pre-k. This is a huge improvement on the $1700 I was paying when she was an infant, though.

    Do you have any type of daycare reimbursement or assistance program? If not, I’d look into it with the implementing of this policy. I’d also encourage you to call around to a few local daycares and ask about fees and waitlist times. You may be surprised with what you learn.

    All that being said, it is a good policy, especially allowing grace for special circumstances like COVID exposure or random school holidays.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, I recommend that assuming childcare is “available”, parents may need a few months to get their kids into a program. It’s really common to have waitlists for every age group. You may want to refer parents to some affordable programs near you that have openings, so they have options while they are on the waitlist of other programs. They may also need to adjust their hours depending on their childcare facility.

    1. Tuesday*

      These are good things to keep in mind, and daycare assistance is a good benefit just in general, but if COVID had never happened, parents would still need to deal with vaccinations (for other things, at least) and finding childcare in order to work at this call center. That isn’t the workplace’s responsibility, it’s the employees’. Employees need to be able to follow workplace policy, and if they can’t, this is not the job for them. Otherwise there are plenty of jobs with flexible hours or more lenient policies when it comes to having kids at home.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        On the whole, I don’t disagree. But it isn’t reasonable to think of things like childcare the same way we might have 3 years ago. It is much more scarce, and much more expensive. Inflation and labor shortages have done nothing to help the situation. Again, this isn’t an unreasonable policy. And OP suggests they may lose a few employees because of the policy. Something they need to consider is how easy it will be to replace those employees, and at what price. This is the type of policy that, if not implemented correctly, could cause some real problems.

      2. NotRealAnonforThis*

        All true statements.

        I was curious and a quick google search shows an approximate 41% cost increase for child care, equivalent pre-pandemic. Its a Fortune dot com stat, US specific, there may be ages and further particulars buried behind a paywall. Specific dollars cited were $9977 pre-pandemic, and $14,177 current.

        My own kids are older, but I’ve not noted a raise of $4,200 in the in-between times here. I’m pretty well-paid, in a stable position.

        1. A*

          Which is why the government needs to subsidize childcare. I don’t think going back to the days of ‘Jim gets a raise because his wife just had another baby!” is the way to go. Salary compensation/non-parental leave PTO/sick time should not differ between employees with kids versus those without on the employers end. Slippery slope that can harm both sides of that fence.

      3. Sal*

        It was approximately one billion times less scary for me personally to send my babies into daycare than it was to send them back to school after the covid closures. No one knows what effects covid has on a kid’s body 5 years after infection and I tried my damnedest to not find out (stupid BA.2.12/BA5). A cold, even the flu–we have a sense. No one seems to be weighting the risk of some heretofore unexpected long term effect of a “mild” childhood covid infection except the parents currently being derided as “overly cautious.” A very cool time to be a parent, especially with the under 5s not being able to be vaccinated until this summer.

        1. one of the meg murrys*

          I agree with MeepMeep123 – we are not out of the pandemic yet, and the fact that schools/daycares and workplaces are no longer requiring mitigation means that we are even farther from “back to normal” than we would be if public health policies reducing risks were still in place. This is going to be a rough winter, and our expectations for employees, customer service, supply chain, etc., still need to be more flexible. OP should clarify the policy, but some employees may need flexibility more than just occasionally, despite their best planning. And I hate talking to call centers, but I try my best to offer grace for whatever the low-paid person on the other end is dealing with: I agree with Rolly’s comment above that I want to live in a world where people can be imperfect – and I am less frustrated when I lower my expectations.

          1. one of the meg murrys*

            This was a complete nesting fail and I was trying to comment on the thread down below started by MeepMeep123 in response to their comment that starts out “Well, but that’s the thing” — but I also agree with Sal that it is a scary time to try to keep oneself and one’s family safe, and public health right now is telling schools to F* around and find out how bad this is for kids.

        2. ferrina*

          YES!

          My kids were born pre-pandemic. They went to daycare at 2 months old, and I wasn’t too worried about infectious diseases.

          Now? Best believe I’d keep them out until they could get the Covid vaccination.

        3. MeepMeep123*

          Yup yup yup. My 83-year-old father has been completely anosmic all his life following some long-forgotten childhood infection. His anosmia has placed him at risk many times – he can’t smell a gas leak, he can’t smell rotten food, and so on. My mother has to be his “smell alert”. When I was a child, I was the “smell alert” as well. Anosmia is nothing to mess around with, and COVID appears to cause it quite frequently. And that’s just one thing. COVID appears to also be correlated with Type 1 diabetes in kids, and that’s not a thing I’d wish on anyone.

          I am one of “those” parents – my kid wears a mask at school at all times (taped to her face with mask tape so that it doesn’t slip), and eats lunch with us outside of school. We got a special exemption from the school to do that. I know for sure that everyone thinks I’m a crazy hypochondriac / hypochondriac-by-proxy, and I kinda don’t care. I don’t want my daughter to end up anosmic or diabetic or chronically fatigued.

      4. Wintermute*

        this! I feel like people are losing the point a little.

        Call centers almost always use an attendance points system, a situation where you are able to take care of even a sick child or emergency without using precious points (and being fired automatically with no recourse when you hit as few as four or five days of absence) is a massive improvement over the status quo ante covid.

        And that’s great! these can be excellent jobs for a lot of reasons, the working conditions are usually poor and the demands high but they accept people without college degrees and have minimal requirements, and there’s often opportunities to be promoted into a specialty queue like helpdesk, technical support, agent support or something like that, and with it dramatically improve your pay and prospects.

        Allowing parents to even consider these jobs as viable, with the caveat of needing child care, is an improvement.

    2. kiki*

      Yeah, maybe the childcare situation where LW lives is truly back to pre-pandemic norms across the board, but in my area expensive childcare options are back to normal-ish but the affordable options are still a mess. Especially if LW is in a position that is compensated more highly than a lot of the staff, I’d advise them to broaden their research pool a bit.

    3. Abigail*

      I don’t think the parents discomfort with childcare for under 6 months makes it the employers responsibility to allow working from home with a newborn.

      1. This Old House*

        Perhaps this call center provides 6 months of paid parental leave so it’s not an issue!

      2. ferrina*

        Not work from home, but they should have parental leave options that give the parent at least 6 months.

        Side note- I did work from home some days with my infant, and it was much easier to work with an infant than with a more mobile kid. (worth noting that my kids weren’t colicky and slept pretty well)

        1. A*

          Yup, my employer’s policy is worded almost exactly as Alison suggested, expect the age range is 6 months-12yo specifically because it’s easier to manage WFH with a newborn than 6+ months. That being said, we don’t have any 100% customer facing positions like a call center so it’s easier to work around if needed in the event that infant is colicky or having a rough day etc.

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      One thing to keep in mind is that infant care spots in many places are much, much harder to come by than toddler and preschool spots. The exact age cutoffs tend to be tied to state child care regulations around staff to child ratios and facility requirements – when I was in Massachusetts a lot of options opened up once kids hit 2 years and 9 months, but when I moved to Maryland it seemed to me the availability really changed at exactly 2 years old.

      Of course it’s reasonable to expect employees to have child care, but if you don’t have young children you may not see the nuances of what’s actually available.

  9. curmudgeon*

    From a customer perspective, I’ve been on calls with a support agent or representative and there has been a child screaming in the background or the person has been clearly distracted by their wayward child.

    It was extremely unprofessional to me and slightly alarming because the nature of the call was sensitive and any mistakes could be dangerous.

  10. Michelle Smith*

    OP, how much do you pay your employees? Are they minimum wage? Do they have the ability to easily afford that childcare? Just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s accessible. Please take that into account when thinking about your policy. It’s possible that in order to keep working parents employed at your company, you may need to consider adding additional benefits or salary increases that make it feasible.

    Another thing — you mention something in your post that I don’t really understand, and that’s having a problem with children being visible during meetings. As long as the child isn’t being actively disruptive, what is the problem? Pretty much the only enjoyment of the awful staff meetings we had at my last workplace was getting to see my coworker’s absolutely adorable (extremely quiet and well-behaved) newborn baby on camera. When talking about your policy, whatever you decide it to be, I would caution you to leave being opposed to seeing cute kids on camera off the list of reasons for it. Productivity and distraction are valid enough reasons, as is noise on calls with clients. No need to put something additional as it undermines your argument and may make it seem to some like you just hate kids.

    1. young worker*

      I think it would be unrealistic to expect all companies to pay enough to make childcare affordable, considering how wildly unaffordable childcare is. (Of course, I would love this to be the case). I’m not sure if a few dollars an hour increase would make that much of a difference.

      I think it’s fair to ask that you blur your background or make it the norm to not have your child in the background. It’s not a matter of hating kids, but it is a distraction – I think our eyes would naturally follow a child in the background if they were young, and might not be discreet as an adult passing through the background might be, or a dog napping in the back.

      I think you might have undermined your own argument by qualifying children as “cute” everytime you mentioned them. Not everyone finds children to be cute, and that doesn’t make one hateful of them. My boss frequently had a small toddler climbing on her and pulling things around in the background and it was quite distracting (locking him out made him just start to bang on the door).

    2. Gully*

      Thank you for saying this! I don’t have children, but that note about children being visible during meetings struck me as well. I have two cats at home, and while I apologize when they show up during my work calls, I’ve only ever had positive responses – people love to see pets, as long as they aren’t disrupting the meeting. Why would the same not be the case for children, who are entire fellow human beings?

      1. straws*

        As someone with both cats and children – I can pet my cat on my lap to keep it calm or shove it off the desk onto the floor if he’s being a nuisance. Neither of those works with my crying infant or toddler :) I do get your point, and in my case my coworkers DO love to see my kids pop in when they sneak up behind me out of curiosity. But they also need me to be able to laugh, apologize, and then continue with full attention after the interruption. MUCH easier with the cats!

  11. Llama Llama*

    On one end of the spectrum, I get it. It drives me crazy when I am on a call with a coworker and their young child is constantly screaming and yelling. There is one person this was a particular problem for and it was hard to have conversations.

    On the other end, I dread if my work creates this policy. I have twin 7 year old extremely disabled kids. I can convince the after school care to watch them for 3 hrs but not for a full day. So when there is no school, they are at home with me. The only child care choice I have is to hire a nanny (if I could even convince someone?) and that is extremely cost prohibitive. To note, the twins are mostly non disruptive (the things they can’t do limits their ability to be disruptive).

  12. Stitch*

    I’m a parent of a young child, one who worked at home with said kid during COVID.

    I think it’s absolutely reasonable to require childcare now. Giving leeway during illness/quarantine is one thing but all the time is not reasonable. I personally know how distracting a toddler is during work at home. Pre-COVID I was required to have childcare/eldercare and I think it’s reasonable.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      Same here. Yes, of course there are huge issues with childcare access (cost, availability, etc.) but that’s not on the OP to solve. AAM’s wording is great.

  13. animaniactoo*

    I would say key to a grace period is also acknowledging that some people may not be able to make arrangements within that grace period.

    So the message would be something like “Ideally this should be in place by date (one month out), but if you have any issues getting arrangements in place and need more time please speak to your manager and let them know.”

    Because if grandparents are going to be the major childcare but won’t be in the area until another week beyond the deadline, you don’t want to them to feel pushed into spending money on babysitters, etc. or running around for *one week* of childcare when you can just grant them a little extra leeway and have open communication which lets you know status rather than them trying to “out of sight, out of mind, fingers crossed nobody notices”.

  14. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Please note that someone could have childcare in the home (significant other who is not working, a babysitter, or a family member) and there could still be kid noise. Or there could be a window open and hear the neighbor’s kids. There is going to be background noise sometimes. Please don’t be like my mom’ boss who had a fit when she started WFH because the tv was on very quietly in the background and that she could hear me talking because I was WFH as well.

    1. Esmeralda*

      There’s a difference between “kid/pet/grandma noise in the background” and kid/pet/grandma actively distracting the employee (could be noisy, could be completely silent).

      One of my colleagues has a barky dog. A loud barky dog. It’s annoying to hear it at every meeting, but if it barks once or twice, ok, we can live with that. What’s not ok is my colleague leaving the meeting to drag the dog away, slam the door, apologize profusely, yell at the (muffled but still audible) dog barking outside the door. The problem is not the noise — it’s the employee being distracted and not working AND not setting up the workspace to not be distracted by Mr Barky-Bark.

      Babies and toddlers, the same: it’s not hearing them in the background that’s a problem. It’s the parent’s attention being taken from the work at hand. The parent is ok with me wasting my time waiting around for them while they attend to their child. And they should! Child’s needs are the priority…but then there are consequences to that.

      Do I think this sucks and the world is badly arranged, that parents should get reasonable amounts of paid leave to care for children, that quality childcare should be affordable or even free? Yes, Yes I do. Do I think that means I should suck it up and let the meeting go long and then I stay late to finish up the work that didn’t get done because I was at that blasted barky meeting? No, I do not.

      1. Rolly*

        “One of my colleagues has a barky dog. A loud barky dog. It’s annoying to hear it at every meeting, but if it barks once or twice, ok, we can live with that. What’s not ok is my colleague leaving the meeting to drag the dog away, slam the door, apologize profusely, yell at the (muffled but still audible) dog barking outside the door. The problem is not the noise — it’s the employee being distracted and not working AND not setting up the workspace to not be distracted by Mr Barky-Bark.”

        THIS.

  15. Dr Useless*

    Am I the only person who’s bothered by the assumption that if you hear a child the parent must not have child care? Maybe there’s another parent or grandparent in the house taking care of the child, but the child can still be heard. Or maybe the person has the windows open and there’s children (not even theirs) playing outside.

    1. Colette*

      That’s where setting the goal of having a quiet, distraction-free workspace is helpful – because maybe childcare is not the solution.

      1. Rose*

        Yeah but there’s a difference in what the work is. For example, if our clinicians work from home there are a lot of steps to ensure their home office is quiet and HIPAA compliant. I think there is probably a similar requirement with answering calls at home for a call center. Its likely that having a small room/closet that can be kept relatively quiet and distraction is a condition of doing that work – or I’m assuming people can still come into the office if not.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I agree with that clinicians need to have quiet areas for HIPPA. but a normal call center that doesn’t deal with confidentiality, in the same way, is different.
          The thing is call centers are NOT quiet and distraction-free. I’ve worked where there were people laughing right behind me and the caller got angry at ME thinking I was laughing at him. Supervisors would also come around with treats like ice cream and ask you what you wanted WHILE YOU WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF A CALL. They would not wait. Or they would have crazy stuff going on, like a guy running around in a cape, that was very distracting. And you can always hear the background of other people talking.

          So hearing some kids playing in the background really isn’t going to be much different then hearing the loud coworker sitting next to the CS rep.

          1. Colette*

            There is a pretty critical difference. If the person I’m talking to is next to a loud coworker, they can presumably still focus on my call. But they won’t be able to focus on my call if they have a child who jumped off the couch and landed on something sharp, or who wants to shout everything that day, or who is crying because they lost their favourite toy, or who climbed onto a shelf and pulled it over on themself.

            1. Payne's Grey*

              Yeah, the loud coworker is an annoyance and a distraction, but they’re probably not directly demanding the person’s attention – and if they are, it is at least safe to ignore them. You can’t just ignore a young child in the same way because of the level of care they need.

              1. A*

                Ya, I’m struggling to understand why this distinction keeps getting muddled.

                The equivalent would be the difference between background noise in an office setting (to be expected / not an issue), versus a colleague next to the person I’m on a call with trying to get their attention and talking to them.

          2. Delta Delta*

            How about I was on the phone with my bank about how they seemed to have lost $20,000 of mine, and all I could hear was the loud coworker screaming into the phone next to the person looking for my money. A stressful situation and so unprofessional.

          3. Curmudgeon in California*

            So, as a customer, I hate noisy call centers. If I hear a boiler room call center in the background it makes it hard for me to understand the rep, or make myself understood. I will even ask if there is a quieter time to call back.

            IMO, it doesn’t matter whether the excess noise is other call center workers, barking dogs, crying kids or even a loud TV. It interferes with communication and doing what needs to be done. I hate calling support to begin with, and noisy calls just make it worse.

            It’s not just kids that are a problem. It’s just that kids are the focus of this letter.

          4. Rose*

            “Hearing kids in the background” implies there’s a sound of children/an airplane/a dog barking outside as someone is working. The expectation is you have a quiet and private place to work in your house, not a sound proof bunker. But it’s perfectly reasonable for someone hired to do call center work to 1) not be simultaneously minding their child and 2) to make a reasonable attempt to have a quiet/private space in the house so if someone is watching the kids in the house the sound of them playing isn’t constantly in the background/they aren’t wandering around on screen.

        2. Wintermute*

          I think you have a good point with HIPAA, and it’s not **just** HIPAA at play, some call centers have Payment Card Industry Standards compliance to worry about, some have FERPA, HIPAA or SOX, there’s a lot of valid reasons you can demand privacy reasonably.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I mean the OP specifies children on laps during training and interrupting to ask their parent for things – that’s different than vague background noise.

    3. Qwerty*

      I think AAM’s second paragraph of the script covers that and is critical for the policy. The noise should be able to mitigated with a good headset. Since it is a call center, ideally the employer is already providing one that minimizes the amount of background noise picked up by the microphone.

    4. Maggie*

      It’s obvious that OP means more than the faint sound of children playing wafting in an open window. I’ve managed a contracted call center and people would put customers on hold for 10 minutes to deal with their screaming kids or talk directly to the kid throughout the whole call trying to get it go away and play or be quiet.

        1. A*

          I interpreted that comment as ‘it’ being the noise, not the child itself. Definitely a bad word choice either way, but I’m not confident in assuming they intended to dehumanize the child.

    5. Guacamole Bob*

      I noticed that, too. The OP presents it as being about whether kids are home or not, but that’s not quite right. It’s whether the children have care other than the employee, and whether the employee is able to work without distraction (or excessive background noise). In some living situations that means out-of-home care, but in plenty of houses the parent could be in one room and the kids in a different part of the house with a caregiver.

    6. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      General noise is one thing, anything addressed at the working person soliciting attention (by a child, pet, or adult) is another.
      The first kind is not using up much of the worker’s attention (unless it’s unsupervised kids that tend to require a bit of backround attention to keep “parent sense” sharp in case it suddenly gets too quiet). It still can be distracting for the caller who may also be under stress.
      The second one will definitely be a disruption and should be prevented except for emergencies (yes, a gas alarm in the call center takes priority over sorting out the late delivery of my llama grooming supplies).

  16. Meow*

    I’ve actually seen a lot of companies lately who don’t care if you are taking care of children, as long as you meet your goals. I know OP specifically said it’s a call center and they aren’t meeting their goals, but I just wanted to point out, I think there are more parents doing this than you might expect, especially for situations like half day kindergarten.

    I do think kids do better in daycare than plopped in front of a TV all day (like most of these kids at home probably are), but when childcare is so expensive, I can’t really blame parents for trying to do double duty. Not to mention, when you have really young kids, it feels like you pay almost your entire pay check for daycare, then they’re sick so often, you end up having to work and take care of them half the time anyway.

  17. MeepMeep123*

    We are heading into a huge COVID/flu season. How reliable is this “reliable childcare” going to be when that really gets going?

    Also, even school is really not a reliable source of childcare unless there’s someone else (i.e. Mom) picking up the slack. My kid just started school this year. I was expecting that I’d have a much longer workday and get a whole lot more done. Then I found out about early dismissal days (unpredictably scheduled), Fun Fridays (once a month), and so on and so forth. Never mind school vacations. Thankfully, my parents are local to us and can help out with childcare when the school is not available, but not everyone is so fortunate.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Excellent points. A lot of kids and teachers/staff are sick right now. Where I live, there aren’t enough substitute teachers to meet the demand. And we’re only in mid-October. Things might be about to get very bad. I hope and assume that this would be part of the ‘unforeseen emergencies’ piece that’s in the policy being proposed AND that the organization will be cool about it when it happens.

      1. MeepMeep123*

        My kid’s teacher already missed about a week of school. She just got back yesterday. Thankfully there was a substitute teacher available, but considering that this teacher does not wear a mask in class, and neither do most of the kids, I think we’re headed for a completely “unforeseen” outbreak of flu, COVID, or both.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Nod. It’d be nice for them to have a plan ahead of time especially since this will extend for the rest of our lives. But this won’t occur, so hard times for that company.

    2. Tuesday*

      I definitely understand the frustration, but according to OP, this is not a job that parents can reasonably perform up to standard while caring for young kids at home. If COVID had never happened, parents would have either had to find childcare in order to work for this company or find a different job. It’s reasonable for the workplace to set policies in order to get back to pre-pandemic output levels, and if those policies don’t work for their employees, there are other places to work that might be more flexible.

      1. MeepMeep123*

        Well, but that’s the thing – we are not out of the pandemic yet. You can’t get back to pre-pandemic output levels if pre-pandemic health is not happening. If you’re sending your kid to childcare, that childcare will close for illness-related reasons for a nonzero amount of days, and you will spend another nonzero amount of days taking care of your sick kid at home, with no childcare available. And because it’s COVID, grandparents aren’t acceptable substitute childcare either.

        And I dare you to find at least one school, or daycare center, or other childcare option, that still requires masks for the kids and staff to prevent viral transmission. We looked very hard and found none in our area. The flu/COVID season this year is going to be epic.

        1. one of the meg murrys*

          I was trying to respond to this and I commented in another thread above by mistake, so I this time I will just say I agree with MeepMeep123 100% that the flu/COVID season this year is going to be bad.

        2. MF*

          “we are not out of the pandemic yet. You can’t get back to pre-pandemic output levels if pre-pandemic health is not happening.”

          Well said. While I think the policy that the OP is trying to put together is very reasonable, this is something he/she will need to keep in mind. Just because they require parents to have childcare does not mean said childcare will be as reliable as it was pre-pandemic. *shrug*

      2. GythaOgden*

        Also Covid happened (and continues) for in-person workers. I don’t have kids, but with the vast majority of the workforce in person, it stands to reason that this was always a luxury that many of us didn’t have, even during the bleakest months.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      The other issues with schools, day cares is even if they are scheduled to be open, they can close for a week at a moment’s notice if some kid/teacher gets COVID or the flu.

  18. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Could you perhaps take a step back in the process and communicate to staff that this is an issue before officially changing the policy? I’m assuming (possibly incorrectly) that (most) staff don’t realize that this has become an issue for management. If you’re in a position where you would use input from staff, ask them what they think a reasonable policy would look like. (Obviously, don’t do this if there are no plans to use anything staff say because it’ll just piss people off). You may get more buy-in if there’s a sense that staff and management co-created the policy. I’ve seen something similar work with seminar classes where the group decides on the “classroom rules” together on the first day; when we built it together, everyone agreed that the rules were reasonable.

    I’m also curious how widespread the issue is, assuming that you’re able to know that. Is this an issue that’s arising with a lot of your staff or is it just a few people? If the latter, it might make sense to have conversations with those folks to work out solutions first. Maybe you still want to have a formal policy, so you can point to it when people join the organization, but maybe you don’t need it.

  19. CheesePlease*

    Realizing childcare isn’t always accessible or affordable, and that there are unexpected lapses in childcare (closures, nanny is on vacation, child sickness) that occur at regularly – children deserve to be cared for intentionally, ad parents deserve to be able to work while not simultaneous juggling childcare. I realize this is not the case for many families but I tried working from home with a 10 month old a few times and was not productive at my job or at mothering. I don’t think is an unreasonable request from an employer, and hopefully creates better balance for parents. I am specifically thinking of children under 3 who need a lot of attention and have minimal independence, and whose development heavily relies on caretaker interactions.

  20. lost academic*

    I’m going to push back on OP’s assertion that childcare is readily available. If you were not in the middle of it in my area, you’d probably assume it was fine – care centers are open again, most have regular hours, everyone’s trying to behave a little more pre-pandemic when it comes to that. But it’s just not the case that it’s available again. This is a pretty average small city and the waitlists for children (not even infants!) are astronomical. There is even more pressure then there was because there are fewer alternatives – getting in home nannies, backup care, etc is a lot harder and I know because I’m in the middle of all of it here. I haven’t left the waiting list since LAST YEAR for toddler/preschool spots at a local daycare for fear that something might happen to the place it took me 6 months to get into this summer. And it’s a LOT more expensive. If you aren’t in the middle of the problem, though, it looks invisible.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      OP says that child care is readily available in their area. Alison asks us to take letter writers at their word (for reasons), so we have to assume that it’s not an issue.

      1. That'sNotMyName*

        Generally, I agree, but that is not the situation in most of the US and I didn’t know how bad it was until I had to find a spot for my kid. There are many daycares in my area and I assumed it meant available spots. It didn’t.

      2. Wintermute*

        “believe the LW” is meant to avoid use useless sidetracks, not prevent us from ever addressing common misconceptions or things many people may not understand. If the LW says Bob is sexist we’re not supposed to say “but what if he’s not tho?” or if a LW says that their employees are paid average for the area, we’re not supposed to assume they aren’t.

        That’s different than saying “a lot of people don’t understand the reality of this situation” or “as someone in this situation you seem to be making a common mistake.”

    2. Nodramalama*

      Can’t be just take OP at their word that from where they’re speaking childcare is readily available?

      1. Lost academic*

        Because for the reasons I stated, it’s very unlikely that the OP is truly in a place to understand if that statement is true. It’s an assumption, and the OP should check that assumption.

        1. AnotherLibrarian*

          Why is it unlikely that OP could know the childcare situation in their area? We’re asked to take letterwriters at their word and I think we should do so in this case.

        2. Raven*

          Going to point out that there are plenty of reasons why OP might be so certain about childcare not being an issue.
          They could be a parent themselves, told so by the employees in question, have close friends/family that work in the field, be in a country that provides free/subsidised childcare, provide childcare/a stipend themselves…
          They’ve specifically stated they don’t want a debate on this issue, they’ve likely already had it. It’s not helpful therefore to disregard that and derail the conversation on ‘what ifs’.

  21. ChildFree Professional*

    I would assume that most of the folks against this policy are parents who are working from home with their children. As everyone says, being a parent is a full time, 24/7 (unpaid) job. There are no breaks, schedules, or dependable off-times. Just like employees are expected to not have a second full-time job that they are managing during a WFH day, it is fair to expect for parents to not have to manage this responsibility, as well.

    I think that where grace can be allowed, grace should be allowed. But unfortunately, balancing being at home with young children and a full-time job is going to be far from possible, and the work will suffer for it.

    1. one of the meg murrys*

      My kid has been an adult for years, but I think the policy (and some of the commenters’ expectations for workers) may be too stringent in our current reality. The pandemic has made lots of things harder for everyone, and specifically hard in certain ways for parents and kids, and all kinds of expectations that I had pre-pandemic (for colleagues, for customer service, etc.) no longer seem reasonable. While it is reasonable to ask parents to have a plan for childcare, I think the OP isn’t allowing for how much these plans can fall through or be imperfect. Same for expectations of workers who aren’t parents–go ahead and have expectations, but people are more likely to need flexibility than pre-pandemic.

  22. Ann O'Nemity*

    Where is this magical place where childcare is easily available and affordable? Just because the news cycle has moved on doesn’t mean the crisis is solved. At a national level, openings in childcare are still significantly higher than there were pre-pandemic. And the number of childcare facilities has declined dramatically. The average American family with two kids spends 40% of their income on childcare. So seriously, how is this not an issue where the OP is?

    1. Raven*

      Different countries = different situations.
      Not everyone is in the US or watches their media.
      We’re asked to take OP at their word. It’s not helpful to derail just because it doesn’t match what you think- especially when the OP has preemptively addressed this issue to prevent exactly this.

  23. Smithy*

    I think it is reasonable to start rolling out this policy. Giving a long lead-in time, and consulting with those it affects should help with the change-over. And of course you should be flexible when children are sick etc.

    To come from the POV of someone with no children, I would be irritated that 3 years into Covid I would be getting paid the same as someone who was doing half the work I was, because their time was taken up minding children.

    1. tessa*

      Hm. I’m not a parent, but my comparison is smoke breaks. I’d wager a few of my co-workers take about 1-2 hours of smoke breaks outside of their lunch hours.

      But nobody talks about that.

      1. TechWorker*

        I think at most places 1-2 hours of smoke breaks a day absolutely would be talked about (!) so I think your company is perhaps not the norm there.

      2. Starbuck*

        Ugh, they should! If that was the norm at my workplace, I’d assume I could take equivalent tea breaks or something.

  24. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Something I’m curious about: although there are many options for childcare in OP’s area, are the wages the company offering high enough to cover the cost? I don’t know about your company, but call centre staff aren’t generally paid high wages. Could the company itself set up a free (or super low cost) daycare in the office to help employees with this?

    1. Nikki*

      Most companies are not going to be interested in setting up a daycare. In my state, if you’re providing childcare for more than 6 children you need to be licensed with the state which means boatloads of paperwork and following very strict regulations on everything from fire safety to temperature regulation to naptime procedures. Seriously, there are like 50 pages worth of rules and regulations you need to follow as a childcare provider. You’re also opening yourself up to a lot of liability. It’s not worth it to most employers to go through all of that.

      1. Sal*

        Other parents of young kids at my (extremely-generous-for-the-USA-maternity-leave-policy-having) old workplace begged our director to open up a daycare (we had a TON of kids and babies–honestly, so many) and it was a hard no. We could have filled a class or two but the liability and the regulations made it an absolute non-starter for my org. I think only really big for-profits can do this, tbh.

        1. KateM*

          How many children do you have in one class if a ton of kids and babies would fill only a class or two??

      2. Rara Avis*

        In fall of 2020, my school tried to set up a daycare for school-age children of teachers. This is a SCHOOL. That is licensed to teach school-age children. It took boatloads of paperwork and about 3 months to get state licensing to operate a daycare — at a SCHOOL!

      3. Ruby*

        Most companies are hard-up for workers. If you’re going to exclude all parents, are you willing to take that hit to your headcount? Or are you going to help with child care?

    2. That'sNotMyName*

      When I was a kid, my dad’s employer had an arrangement with a daycare center down the road that gave employees a discount. I don’t know how much or if the difference was paid by the employer, but I know a lot of people who’d put up with a lot of crap for discounted childcare.

    3. Courageous cat*

      I mean… you don’t have to have kids. If you want to have them, I would think one would take cost of childcare into consideration.

      I think our government should absolutely subsidize that, but I don’t see how most employers could, or even should.

  25. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    On the one hand, our remote work policy specifies that a team member cannot be the primary caregiver for a child under the age of 12 while on the clock.

    On the other hand … if I can’t tell you’re being primary caregiver for wee Chris while on the clock, because it’s not affecting your work productivity or quality and wee Chris isn’t showing up (visibly or audibly) in your meetings, then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s not like I’m showing up at your house to check on you.

    1. Rolly*

      12 years old!!!

      My boy is 10 and on the well behaved side of average. Working with him at home I”m probably 95% as productive as if he wasn’t at home. And *more* productive than in the office with multiple people.

      12? For general office work with an average kid? I don’t see the problem with an 11-year-old or a good 10-year old. Even an 8 or 9 year-old that was exceptionally well behaved.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Then presumably I couldn’t tell you were minding your kid on the clock and you’d be fine?

      2. Daisy*

        Which is the point Red Reader was trying to make – with well-behaved children the manager is likely not going to notice.
        Which is just the opposite of my coworker who would login to meetings with a toddler on her lap that was climbing over her face and head, another swinging on the back of her chair trying to spin coworker around, and a third asking her to get juice out of the fridge. She missed many meetings, some were “attended” on mute with the monitor pointed at the ceiling (not a problem in itself) PLUS she could not retain what was said during meetings and missed important updates. If she was able to work at even 80% capacity I’m sure everyone would have understood – but when she was blowing deadlines for the whole team and dropping balls on a regular basis it became a real problem.

      3. Nonym*

        Kids as young as 11 are allowed to babysit in my area, so you could argue you hired your child to babysit themselves, so you do have childcare.

        I’m kidding but I agree that 12-year-old is too high and the fact that you could get away with violating the policy obviously doesn’t resolve this problem well. If you find yourself having to say “yeah but you could just secretly violate the policy and you’ll be fine”, that’s not a good policy.

  26. The Person from the Resume*

    I just came here to say I think the age cut off is around 8 or 10. You need a kid old enough to occupy themselves without calling on their parent much at all and one who understands that they can’t be noisy enough to be heard on their parent’s work calls.

    1. Educator*

      From a child development standpoint, I don’t think there is one set age that should be policy. Levels of independence and self-sufficiency are very different from kid to kid. To me, the bar is—could you leave the child home alone for several hours? Would you trust them to stay occupied and safe? Because if your attention is fully on work, you are effectively doing that.

      I would frame it in the policy as “any child not able to be safely left unsupervised for several hours.”

      1. KateM*

        I wouldn’t leave my 4yo home alone, I wouldn’t leave my 7yo home alone for several hours, but as I have repeatedly found out, I can leave one or both of them next room (they’d be playing or drawing, not watching TV) and only check what they are doing and are they even still at home when I get a coffee or go to bathroom.

      2. The Person from the Resume*

        The point is for a policy that’s enforecable you want something clear that a manager can point to and an age cut off is a good one, not the nebulous “could you leave the child home alone for several hours”? If you are going to without an age cutoff it should include being alone in another room and quit and not interupting the parent while they work.

        It would of course be different for an older but developmentally delayed child who could not be left alone, occupy themselves quietly for hours.

        1. Wintermute*

          Why not focus on results? “While we understand that exceptional circumstances may occur and emergencies happen, we expect you will be able to focus on your duties productively and that your home work environment will not present distractions which are audible or visible to our customers or your coworkers in meetings with rare exceptions. We also expect that you will have secure privacy when discussing sensitive matters or customer personally-identifiable or financial information”

          That covers parents, people with high-energy pets, people who want to work out of a coworking space or sitting on their front porch, any situation that might cause a problem.

      3. Jackalope*

        If they’re school-aged then that won’t always be the case that they’re alone for several hours, though. I don’t have any kids, but if I did, the time they would get home from school would be 30-60 min before I get off work depending on which local school they went to. That doesn’t account for things like half days, of course, or random days off. But most of the time if I had kids in school they could get home and just have to occupy themselves for an hour or so, which seems reasonable for school-aged kids.

        1. Payne's Grey*

          School aged where I live is age 4/5 onwards – there’s no earthly way a child that age could or should be getting home from school alone and occupying themselves until a parent gets home. My kids’ school won’t let them leave without an adult until age 9 or 10. That’s why parents have to sort out wrap-around care and why we sometimes have to dash to pick up the kids if that falls through.

      4. Educator*

        I think I frame this in terms of safety because I once had to process incident reports for student safety issues at an educational organization. Even with a trained and attentive adult in the room, I was terrified by how quickly a kid could go from quietly playing to quietly choking, or go from playing near the door to getting out the door. Fortunately, the adults on hand promptly resolved all of the incidents I reviewed!

        Obviously, as a manager, it is not my role to be involved in the family safety of my employees. I just want their attention on their work, and they can’t be fully present if their kid is not either fully independent or supervised by someone else. And I think there is an advantage to keeping it a little flexible. I’ve known a few high-maintenance 12-year-olds who are more likely to need a caregiver’s attention than a well-behaved 8-year-old! If my employee was visibly having trouble balancing care for their older child and work, I would want to be able to address it.

    2. Autumn*

      It’s going to be development based, kids are different, but in the end it comes down to this, is this child mature enough that you could take an hours nap and not be disturbed for snacks or potty, or “I’m bored” or needing other sorts of non-urgent help. Also not find your bathroom flooded or children having mixed martial arts bouts over the remote control. That would be your test…now if a kid is sleepy and chill they probably pass this test even though they’d fail it while healthy. There might be kids who pass this when healthy but not while ill because of their personality.

      Young infants need to be in care as soon as they are unwilling to be quiet and content in a sling or nearby playpen. Again that depends on the kid.

      Because this is specifically about call centers I’ll stop here. I would hope it would be possible for someone to stop out and check on the kids once an hour.

      1. Potted Plant*

        I agree. OP, I’d suggest it should be in the range of 6-8 when setting a blanket policy. Obviously there are exceptions. But there are enough 6-year-olds who can NOT create huge distractions during the day that I would be tempted to set it there. 8 is probably on the other end of the average range and 90%+ of kids that age should be able to be ok.
        ‘Can you get your own juice’ is kind of a nice way to mentally frame it, I think.

  27. Ann Perkins*

    My company went hybrid and laid out the expectation while keeping it general: “Hybrid work is not intended to be a substitute for childcare, caring for an elderly family member, or a way to avoid using vacation, personal or sick time. Employees in a hybrid work arrangement are expected to be at their secondary designated workspace when not in the office.”

    In the policy it talks about the expectation of being available within normal working hours, limiting distractions, and making sure client information is kept private. In practice, in most departments it’s been completely fine to stay home on those kinds of days where you’re sick enough to not want to come in but not too sick to actually work (cough or cold, for example) but we get decent PTO and sick time also.

    I don’t particularly care for the idea of setting an age cut off. If I have five children between the ages of 10-16 and they’re all home, that’s going to be more distracting than one 9 year old. I also don’t know how easily that sort of thing can be enforced though as long as there’s no noticeable effects on work.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      For better or worse, my employer lets us bring our kids to the office on occasion, as needed. The rule is that they must be of “self-occupying age”. My child is 4, and will be quite content to sit and color, draw, or watch her tablet for the day, or quietly play with her dinosaurs. My coworker has a 7 year old who is a menace (her words), so he does not come. So I think something like that instead of a hard age limit would be a better benchmark.

  28. SomebodyElse*

    It’s interesting that what was a perfectly reasonable and typical WFH policy pre-covid is now seen by some as unreasonable.

    Yes childcare is expensive
    Yes childcare can be hard to find
    Yes some parents have to make the choice to stay home and work because of lack of available childcare or personal choice to not enroll children in childcare

    These things have also been true since I’ve been alive, it’s certainly been true since children in daycare have been alive. It is perfectly fine for a company wanting their workforce to be focused on work during the time they are paying them.

    As for rolling back the flexibility in the policy. Make the announcement, put a reasonable date on it, entertain exceptions on a case by case basis, and understand that you may lose employees over this.

    1. L-squared*

      Right. No one would’ve found this policy to be ridiculous a few years ago, but no all of a sudden they are acting like having this expectation is some cruel thing.

      1. That'sNotMyName*

        They’re probably people who just wouldn’t be working, so no one would have heard from them.

      2. LizB*

        I didn’t find the policy to be ridiculous a few years ago, and don’t find it to be ridiculous now, but I do think that US society writ large is, actually, pretty cruel to working parents. We don’t have enough childcare spots, the ones we have aren’t affordable, when your kid gets sick there are no backup options, you can’t go down to part time to balance costs because then you lose your healthcare, it’s an absolute nightmare. I think the reality of how much of a nightmare it is has become starkly clear to more people over the course of the pandemic, and allowing parents to work from home with kids around did something to mitigate some of the cruelty built into the system. The policy itself isn’t cruel, and is probably necessary for work to get done well, but going back to it does expose parents to more of the existing (and worsened) brokenness of the system.

        1. one of the meg murrys*

          What LizB said. My response to all these comments about how this would have been reasonable and standard before the pandemic is, 1) some of it was never reasonable and the pandemic helped me see that: workplaces expected everyone to conform to a very narrow definition of “professional” and were very inflexible about all kinds of crises. And 2) a lot of it WAS reasonable but isn’t any more because we are in a very different world now with crises we didn’t used to have! When I had an infant in daycare 20+ years ago, I don’t think it ever closed unexpectedly, and if he or I got sick, I could get someone to watch him without asking them to risk a life-threatening illness. The employer doesn’t need to single-handedly make up for the systemic failures, but if they were willing to be more flexible and accommodating earlier in the pandemic, they should consider continuing that flexibility and being part of the solution, because the pandemic isn’t over and everything is more broken than it used to be.

        2. Wintermute*

          I feel like just getting organizations to recognize that emergencies happen to people of all levels and shouldn’t adversely impact your employment if they’re rare enough that they’re not a regular obstacle is a huge win.

          in the Before Times it was pretty rare for anyone below a certain level on the org chart to have any flexibility other than “use a sick day, maybe putting you on a disciplinary path”– working from home, bringing the child to the office, flexing work hours, all of that was a privilege reserved for the upper echelons. Just allowing for emergencies and child care suddenly falling through on occasion is a huge advancement.

          1. L-squared*

            True. But this letter isn’t about those emergency situations (which I do agree need flexibility), this is about caring for young kids at home daily while working.

            1. Wintermute*

              But the LW said that they will be accommodating of emergency situations, they just expect you not to make it your full-time plan, that’s my point. They’re ALREADY taking a huge step forward by saying they won’t punish you for occasional lapses or emergencies.

              And I wanted to recognize that just by doing that they’re making a real positive step for parents, because four years ago it would have been unheard of

    2. Sunshine*

      I tend to agree with this. I have so much sympathy for working parents right now, but the unfairness in the childcare system is not OP’s company’s responsibility. The choice to stay home full time or find a part-time job (or a remote job with flexible hours) has always been something parents had to consider, and having more leeway for a short time due to an international crisis doesn’t change that. It’s not unreasonable for OP to set standards that will help get output back to normal – the company has been willing to take a hit for years in order to help parents out, which is already very generous!

    3. Emily*

      COVID taught us there is no such thing as reliable child care. Your day care or school can, at a moment’s notice, say “we’re closing, can’t help you, bye.” Even past the initial closures, many of us had additional unplanned days or weeks at home that went far beyond what we had for PTO. And people made employment choices based on that. I took a permanently WFH job as a result, and I’m grateful that my kids are old enough to be basically self-sufficient.

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable for employers to say “you need to have child care.” But they should understand that the ability to watch kids and hold this job is not just considered one benefit, it may be considered the only benefit of an otherwise pretty thankless, low-paying job, and that child care is likely not going to be affordable for many of these employees. I don’t think that necessarily came through in the letter here.

    4. H2*

      Yeah, I tend to agree with this (and I’m a parent). If nothing else, I think that at some point, if a lot of people are insisting that they should be able to care for their kids during the work day, companies are going to require people to come back to the office. I mean, people swear up and down that they are more productive at home, but if that’s not true for a sizeable group and if wfh is causing new problems, I’m afraid that more people will try to solve that by requiring people to be in the office.

      1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

        This! I am working hard to advocate for my team to be able to continue to work remotely. They are excellent workers and prefer the extra flexibility (not to mention time and money saved) that WFH allows. However, there are others throughout the organization with disruptive children, or even well-behaved children that employees are caring for throughout the day, that are causing leadership to start saying they want everyone back in the office. If you think that obtaining childcare is going to be an added burden for parents, please also consider the added burden of transportation, travel time, etc that will come with a return to the workplace. Continuing to work from home, even while not caring for your children is likely to still be making your life easier and I applaud LW for trying to maintain that as an option for the employees.

    5. Cassandra Mortmain*

      Yes. This was an absolutely standard expectation before Covid — when childcare was already expensive, and kids already got sick and left parents scrambling, and most of the problems that people are citing as mitigating circumstances already existed.

      The situation has not improved since Covid and that’s unfortunate. I hope the company is doing what it can — having a flexible spending account that lets employees use pretax dollars for child care, for example, is a very standard benefit. But it is not actually the employer’s responsibility to make up for a broader societal failure, and it is completely fair for the company to have the baseline expectation that people should not be caring for small kids (or anyone else who needs full-time attention) while also working.

    6. Danish*

      There are many things about life that seemed fine/workable before covid that dont now. And as many parents have/are pointing out, it amybe wasn’t ever that fine to begin with.

    7. Moh*

      Also: childcare is much harder to find post-COVID
      childcare is much more expensive post-COVID (while wages have not risen for many people)
      many COVID babies and toddlers have never been in childcare, so it’s never been an expense their parents budgeted for

      I agree that the letter writer’s expectations are reasonable, but I wonder what the company is willing to offer to retain trained and productive staff.

  29. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    I will take you at your word that childcare is readily available and affordable in your area. (You live in a magical area.) I am currently pregnant, and waiting lists for infant care in my area are 12+ months, by which point my child will not be an infant any longer. We’ve literally been on waiting lists since we found out I was pregnant (March 2022) and the earliest opening we’ve been told we can expect is November 2023.

    Please consider the following things:
    * Children under 6 months can’t be vaccinated. Children under 6 months are also disproportionately more expensive than older children to place in childcare.

    * If you’re going to require out-of-home care for your workers (which is reasonable!) consider giving as much leeway as you can with start/end times. Consider allowing your employees (if possible; I know you said it’s call center work, but my experience is that call centers have longer than 9-5 hours) to start earlier/end earlier or start later/end later to accommodate day care drop-off/pick-up.

    * Really think about your policy for what employees should do with a sick child. Where I live there are no options for sick children to get care. If my daughter (six) gets sick at school, she is either home with me, dad, or my MIL. If MIL isn’t available, dad or I are WFH and taking care of her as best we can, flexing our hours if necessary.

    * Also consider that as we head into the first cold-and-flu season since 2020 in which people aren’t either exclusively (2020) or mostly (2021) wearing masks, all the government advisory boards I’ve seen (CDC, NHS, WHO, etc.) are predicting higher-than-normal flu rates this season, not to mention the run-of-the-mill colds/ear infections/sore throats that kids get at school.

    * Be very careful about the age cut-off. Neurotypical children will have different needs than their neurodivergent peers despite being the same chronological age. If you have a cut-off of, say 8 years old (third grade) and my third-grader is able to work on homework independently and play quietly after school but my colleague’s child who’s 8 but on the spectrum and needs more help isn’t, but we can both be home with them, you haven’t solved the problem, because my colleague will still be doing more hands-on parenting than I will be.

    I agree that parents can’t use the ‘watching children’ excuse for having lower-than-acceptable numbers, and I don’t think your policy about childcare is wrong, but you have to look at the nuances.

    1. Potted Plant*

      Where do you live? In my area childcare is absolutely available. However in my area I also hear people complaining about long, year+ waitlists.
      I know for a fact that what happens in my area is that the fancy centers w mostly white kids do have long waits. But there is lots and lots of childcare that does not. I’m sure that’s not the case everywhere but just wanted to comment on a phenomenon I see here in my area in the Southeast US.

  30. librarymouse*

    I think this is a reasonable expectation, but I’m honestly a little tired of employers complaining about their employees lack of childcare. When full time childcare can cost more than a person’s entire full time salary, I think it’s incumbent on the employer to either figure out if they can provide affordable childcare to their employees or to create some sort of voucher program.

    1. L-squared*

      See, I completely disagree. Look at the problem we already have with healthcare being tied so closely to employment. Adding childcare to that will just be a similar issue.

      1. SoloKid*

        As much as it is an issue, until USA gov’t gets their behind in gear and makes healthcare universal, employers (especially large ones) are able to negotiate lower prices. Having childcare tied to employment specifically so someone can work isn’t the worst idea. I mean, the old way of “have mom or grandma watch the kid” is rooted in other bad side effects like limiting mom or grandma’s employment opportunities.

        Companies can move at a far quicker pace than the gov’t, and retaining the best employees is in their best interest.

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        There is one fundamental difference, though: You (and your dependents) need healthcare if you work or not, while childcare largely exists to enable you to work (a gross oversimplification, I know; there are good reasons to need childcare independently from work, especially for the kid’s sake). So employers contributing to affordable childcare makes sense.

    2. Sunshine*

      Why on earth would this be the employer’s responsibility? No one is forcing the employees to take a job that is prohibitive to caring for a child on the clock. The parents are the ones who chose to have kids, and while no one could have foreseen the pandemic’s effects on parenting, it’s not OP’s company’s responsibility to fix the childcare system. The company is entitled to set the standards needed to ensure output, and if that’s a problem for someone, they don’t have to work there.

      1. bamcheeks*

        >> No one is forcing the employees to take a job that is prohibitive to caring for a child on the clock

        Capitalism and a total lack of a social welfare net is literally forcing that.

        1. Sunshine*

          What I meant is that there are plenty of flexible remote jobs that would be better suited for a parent without childcare. You can’t get an in-person office job or a construction job or a teaching job and then say “by the way, I have to watch my child all day.” Some jobs are just not conducive to that.

          1. bookworm*

            I keep seeing people say that lots of these jobs exist, but I’m having a hard time thinking of them. Can you give any examples? Particularly examples that are feasible for the types of workers generally getting call center jobs?

            1. Sunshine*

              Freelance writing is an easy field to break into that doesn’t require a degree – there might be a short period of taking poorly-paying gigs just to build up a portfolio, but after that your work really speaks for itself. There are customer service jobs that are purely instant-message or email-based, so no calls required. You can be a virtual assistant, a transcriptionist (although this one is a little tougher due to the level of accuracy needed), do data entry, test websites/apps, be an online tutor of ESL students, or be a translator if you speak another language. If you’re able to go through a bootcamp-type program, coding is a lucrative option. Those are just a few off the top of my head, a few of which I’ve done myself.

              1. bamcheeks*

                >> Freelance writing is an easy field to break into

                this is one of the more astonishing sentences I’ve ever read.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  I think that probably means you were good at it! Good for you, but it doesn’t mean it’s an easily available option for anyone.

                2. Russian in Texas*

                  Ok, I re-read it, “freelance writing”.
                  I am not sure that OP aware that a huge chunk of the call centers employees are not native English speakers.
                  It’s an astonishingly naive view that everyone can:
                  Write (not literally unable to, but as a skill)
                  Write in English
                  Write in English well enough to actually make living out of it.
                  I speak/write in English reasonably well, for a non-native speaker, but nowhere on the professional level. I work in customer service and account support, and I would never conciser my language skills to be above the average business correspondence.

                3. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

                  I am laughing so hard at the idea of freelance writing being an easy (and family supporting!) field to break into that I am in PAIN! *whew* Thanks! I needed a good laugh!

              2. RagingADHD*

                From the long list of things you’ve tried, I’m going to assume you ran into the same thing most people do when they’re trying to gig their way into supporting a family – either the work is too unstable and the pay to low to be sustainable long-term, or it requires more concentration than they are able to maintain with children in the house.

                Or (most likely) both.

              3. Eyes Kiwami*

                Many of those jobs are not high-paying and require just as much focus, and have just as strict childcare requirements, as working in a call center. Being an online ESL tutor is literally the same job, you certainly can’t be watching your kid during a lesson! Maybe if you do text-only translation with flexible deadlines, but if you do any kind of interpretation you’re back in the exact same situation.

          2. JTP*

            Hard disagree. I had a work-from-home, VERY part-time (less than 10 hours a week) job with very flexible deadlines right after my son was born. The temp agency pitched it as “You can work while he sleeps or when your husband is home!”

            And EVEN THEN, I still had trouble getting my work done, and I lucked out with an easy baby.

      2. SoloKid*

        The same reason employers took on the “responsibility” of providing health care. Makes them look attractive benefits wise even though they don’t “need to”.

        More companies are waking up to the reality that a single income 4.5 person household is a relic of the 70’s and they want to attract better employees than those that will do a subpar job for subpar wages/benefits.

    3. Colette*

      I disagree. It may be incumbent on the government, but this isn’t a problem for employers to solve. Why do you see it as the employer’s problem, rather than the parents’ or governments’ problem?

        1. Colette*

          But maybe they don’t – or maybe paying for childcare would mean they won’t get contracts and the company will close so they’d rather have high turnover than high retention.

    4. Educator*

      Everywhere I have worked in the US has offered Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts. Nice tax break for parents specifically aimed at childcare on top of the many other tax benefits families already receive. I know that might not make it truly affordable, but, as a taxpayer, I feel like I am already chipping in on this one.

      1. bookwyrm*

        I have worked at 5 different jobs over the last 12 years and have never had one that offered that – only general FSAs. Maybe the first one, since I was fresh out of college and it was not a benefit I would have paid any attention to, but definitely none of the others.

    5. Wintermute*

      asking employers to potentially double the cost of an employee is not a valid solution, it’s just not going to happen, not as long as other people are willing to do these jobs without that hefty premium.

      I’m as supportive of employee rights and robust protections as anyone here, but even I acknowledge there’s a certain ratio of cost to employee results below which a job would not be practical to even have someone do, and setting the floor at living wage plus childcare costs would risk pricing a huge swatch of jobs out of existence.

  31. L-squared*

    I’m saying this as someone with no children, but I find it interesting how often people feel that its not the employers responsibility to deal with the employees out of work situations, just need to have them do their job. Until it comes to kids.

    People typically don’t think pay and raises should be tied to an employees personal situation. If an employees car breaks down, people don’t feel the employee needs to be responsible for them getting to work. If the employee is working from home and their internet goes out, again, not on the employer. But somehow the employer is supposed to take on some responsibility for child care costs and ability?

    1. bookworm*

      I say this also as someone without kids, but it’s in everybody’s best interest for a future generation to be born and well taken care of. And also, assuming you think women participating in the workforce is a good thing, as Alison pointed out, lack of childcare disproportionately keeps women out of the workforce. The examples you give here of power outage or transportation breakdown are more akin to occasional emergency lack of childcare (that I’d argue businesses should be and often are equally accommodating of!). But the alternative to employers figuring out some way to help with childcare long term is that individuals will solve the problem by not being able to work anymore. We’re already in a labor shortage across a range of industries. You don’t see a business reason why it’s in employers’ best interest to figure out how to retain maybe 30% of their workforce?

      1. Colette*

        I agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest for children to be well take care of. I disagree that a child who can’t make noise and has only sporadic access to the caregiving adult is being well-taken-care of.

        Yes, lack of affordable childcare is a problem. But it doesn’t make sense for an individual company to try to solve that problem, other than by paying fairly, unless there is a business advantage for them to do that. And many companies don’t want to get involved in childcare simply because of the legal liability of taking responsibility for someone’s kids.

        1. bookworm*

          what I meant by “well taken care of” was having actual real supervision and care, not someone trying to do two jobs at once. And given how expensive childcare is, that probably means subsidizing childcare (not necessarily providing it themselves) and pushing government to change policies if they want to keep those employees in the workforce.

      2. L-squared*

        So, I guess this wasn’t clear, I’m all about figuring out better solutions for childcare, but I feel that is more of a government issue than an individual company issue. I don’t even like how much our healthcare is tied to our employers. It just is odd to me that so many people even want childcare tied to employment.

      3. John*

        Given that the children are born, it’s in everybody’s best interest for them to be taken care of.

        Strong disagree that it’s in everyone’s best interest for more children to be born. The world is still increasing in population and climate change is becoming more and more of a problem. Also assuming we’re talking about the USA, there are tons of young immigrants who are willing to come if we let them, so it’s not like we have to worry about a Japan/Italy style age imbalance if people cut back on having children. So I really think we should be cutting back hard on benefits that encourage people to have children.

        1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

          I can’t wait to hear about how you think maternity leave should be structured.

          Also, “parenting is a choice” is a rather less absolute statement in the USA than it used to be, just saying.

        2. bamcheeks*

          >> there are tons of young immigrants who are willing to come if we let them

          I regret to inform you that immigrants also have children and their children also need to be cared for.

        3. Starbuck*

          “So I really think we should be cutting back hard on benefits that encourage people to have children.”

          This has the effect of punishing children for existing, which is of course indefensible.

    2. bamcheeks*

      It’s more akin to having most of your workforce living on the other side of the river to your factory, and then the bridge breaks. You can moan all you want about how your employees chose to live on the wrong side of the river and how it shouldn’t be your job to fix it, but if your workers can get across the river, your business is buggered.

      Childcare is infrastructure.

    3. ZeldaFitz*

      If the businesses option is to simply not have a huge chunk of their workforce no longer able to work for them, then yeah I’d say that’s a pretty good option for that business to take on some responsibility for child care costs!

    4. SoloKid*

      I don’t think anyone is arguing for increased pay or raises for individuals with kids. (outside of making a decision not to fire someone just because they have kids, which I agree is wrong.)

      Something like a childcare voucher would be like tuition reimbursement or pet insurance. Not everyone needs to take it, but it’s there if you want it.

    5. Eyes Kiwami*

      What if it was framed as a benefit offered to employees instead of the responsibility lies with the employer?

      1. L-squared*

        I mean, I feel like its semantics on whether its a benefit or semantics, if people are saying they would leave without it. Healthcare is a benefit, but one that many people wouldn’t take a job without. So at that point, it becomes an expectation for many people.

        At the same time though, if a company wants to do a flex spending account or something, I think that is great. I just don’t agree that a company needs to, or even should, allow people to be the primary care giver at the same time they are supposed to be working.

        1. Eyes Kiwami*

          I think the benefit language removes the issue of “entitlement” for workers who want it. Like how some jobs offer work from home as a benefit, and many people feel very strongly about this and may even expect it in some circumstances, but it’s understandable that some places don’t offer it.

          I don’t see anyone arguing that workers should always be allowed to be the primary care giver at the same time they are working. We certainly don’t want daycare workers also working a desk job while the daycare is open. I see a lot of people saying that it is still a necessary evil because the pandemic is ongoing, childcare is not available yet, and parental leave does not cover the period of time until kids can be vaccinated or off the waitlist into school.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      It’s probably because medical expenses are linked to employment in the US; it’s a very similar situation where a personal expense is too expensive to pay individually without group backing. I’m in a country where medical costs are paid for by the government, and when childcare costs get unreasonable, people tend to say “what is the government doing about this?” because that’s the go-to.

  32. bamcheeks*

    Also have young children, also think it’s reasonable to say your workers that they can’t do their jobs and look after young children.

    I guess my question would be around school holidays, or an hour at the beginning or end of the day. Where I am, it’s one thing to have school and working wraparound care during termtime. Holidays are a whole other ballgame: none of the school holiday options go on later than 3pm or 4pm. What’s your policy going to be for an hour or two between school or holiday club finishing or the end of the working day? Does that need to be addressed in the policy or dealt with by individual managers?

    My particular bugbear around this is: be realistic and this is going to mean a lot of people leaving. “Childcare is available” does not mean childcare is affordable, accessible, convenient, local, or that the children are necessarily going to be happy there. I had a horrible conversation with my boss a few weeks ago where I explained that “hybrid working will probably come to an end soon” will mean that I have to leave the job. She thought i was being melodramatic and said things like, “well you’ll probably have to investigate paid childcare” and “well I guess that’s what PTO is for”, as if I hadn’t considered these things. And I genuinely find it so upsetting to be patronised that way as if parents leaving the workplace because they can’t make childcare work was just some kind of imaginary phenomena that never *really* happens.

    Treat this like telling your workers that their jobs are being moved to another city 2000km away. Expect to lose a large proportion, maybe even a majority. It’s a reasonable business decision to make, but when people tell you they can’t make it work, *believe them*, express regret, and tell them you’ll give them a good reference or whatever else you can do for them. Don’t act like they’re just not trying hard enough.

    1. L-squared*

      This is not to be rude, but I have to wonder, what did you do before covid? Did you not have childcare then? Or did you figure out how to make it work? I say this as someone who was raised by a single mom, so I have plenty of sympathy for this. But it seems like everyone is acting like figuring out childcare while parents work is something that has only needed to happen in the last few years

      1. bamcheeks*

        I worked part-time, and I had children in pre-school that went from 8-6pm in a settled environment all year round, and was two minutes walk from our house. Now they’re at school, that lasts 9-3pm, plus they can move to another environment for 3-5pm (but it’s *much* more tiring for them.) That works pretty well in termtime: one of us has to leave at 4pm to collect them but it’s doable. However, in school holidays the only options are 9-3pm or 9-4pm and they aren’t as local and easy to get to, so the round trip to drop them off or pick them up is about 40 minutes from home, but it’s well over an hour from where I work. So I still work part-time, but more hours now, because I can work from home during holidays and me and my partner can coordinate schedules and have enough flexibility to plan our days around the 40 minute round trip to pick them up.

        And like, if my employer decide there’s a business case for that, fair enough, it was always a risk and my employer has a right to decide that. It was specifically being treated as a melodramatic idiot who couldn’t possibly be stating a real truth when I said that it wouldn’t be possible for me to stay on the job that was awful. Believe parents when they tell you there are real and immovable constraints on their availability!

        1. bamcheeks*

          (Combined household income of about £90k. We are very rich, have children with no disabilities who thrive in social settings, and have access to multiple high quality childcare settings locally. It is not enough to allow both of us to work near-full-time.)

      2. ZeldaFitz*

        Women, mostly, were “figuring out childcare while parents work” by sacrificing wages, promotion opportunities, jobs, etc., before COVID and now. Do you think that’s what we should keep doing?

        1. bamcheeks*

          Most of the people I know who are on average-to-mid-high salaries are at least partly dependent on free care from their own parents / parents-in-law. I think you have to be top 80th-90th centile to be able to manage entirely on paid childcare.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Not bamcheeks, but here is what has happened to some of my friends/coworkers with kids under 5 re: childcare that basically upended any plans:

        1. Grandma/Grandpa/Auntie/Uncle was the sitter but they are now dead from COVID
        2.Grandma/Grandpa/Auntie/Uncle was the sitter but they are now disabled from COVID
        3. Old daycare closed because they couldn’t get staff
        4. Old daycare is $30K a year not $15K and now can’t afford it
        5. Old daycare is $70K a year not $30K and now can’t afford it
        6. Had a baby in 2020 and didn’t realize daycare would still be a shit show in almost 2023
        7. Child diagnosed with disabilities since 2020 and trying to get a special ed daycare placement is a special kind of hell
        8. Stay at home parent died
        9. Divorce and now chasing child support to cover daycare

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Sadly, amongst my friends/coworkers, 1 and 2 are the most common reasons. COVID tore like wildfire through Black, Indigenous, and Brown elders

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              That it is. It has been bad for my friends/coworkers but terrible for my agency’s clients who legit can’t work now because their only childcare option is dead/disabled and needs care themselves. Their jobs and the jobs of the fathers are low paid call center, hospitality, food service, childcare, home health, etc.. so family care was the only care and without it the family is now thrown into/deeper into poverty. You know things are bad when service sector folks envy their ag worker friends/family because they can bring their toddlers to the fields since that means they can keep working. It is only going to get worse before it gets better

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah. I think this is important (and my sympathies to your friends and coworkers).

          The world is not “back to normal”. We can’t just return to the things we relied on before. A huge number of people are dead. The world has changed. Care costs have skyrocketed. We need to be thoughtful about how we deal with that.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            And we haven’t even begun dealing with COVID as a mass disabling event. The exact same people who staff child care and the same ones that will be pulled out of the workforce to care for newly disabled relatives.

            tl;dr: Doesn’t matter what plans folks had in February 2020 for child/elder care. The world isn’t like it was then and probably won’t be again, for better and worse

            1. one of the meg murrys*

              So much this. I can’t believe how many commenters are asking why dealing with childcare is any different now than it used to be. And some implying that people who “chose” to have kids (which they may or may not have done) should have known what they were getting into–you never fully know what you are getting into, but people who got pregnant in 2019 really had no idea what they were in for.

              1. not a parent*

                > I can’t believe how many commenters are asking why dealing with childcare is any different now than it used to be

                I mean, a lot of people have no way of knowing, really. I had no idea that childcare costs had gone up so much: it’s not like that’s something I’ve priced out. And I don’t know that many parents of young kids, so I don’t know how people typically have their kids taken care of outside of daycares.

                1. Payne's Grey*

                  No, but if people know they haven’t priced it out and aren’t aware of what childcare is like these days, it would be so nice if they would believe parents when we say it’s a big problem, rather than arguing that it can’t be that bad because reasons. (Not accusing you of that, but it’s a constant repeating theme on posts about working parents/childcare – the assumption that it can’t be that hard, that there must be a way, that we should just *handwave* figure it out. Back in the pandemic someone on here argued that a toddler is as smart as a dog so can be trained to sit silently while a parent works. A lot of people seem to think all parents become utterly irrational as soon as the baby arrives, rather than figuring that raising children gives you increased insight into the issues associated with…raising children.)

                2. Payne's Grey*

                  (Oop, I meant back in lockdown, not back in the pandemic – very much aware that it’s not over!)

              2. bamcheeks*

                I think another thing is that — two and a half years is a long time! Even without factoring in the specific and devastating effects of covid itself. Lots of people have had children that that they didn’t have before covid. Lots of people have changed jobs. Children have aged out of one form of childcare and into another. Businesses and employers have made massive shifts in working conditions. People have taken jobs with different working conditions as they became available.

                “Go back to how everything was before” sounds obvious, but it’s a fantasy.

        3. MeepMeep123*

          Here’s another one: Grandma/Grandpa is the sitter and they are too high-risk to take care of a COVID-infected child. My kid is in school and my parents cover the rest of her childcare so that I can work. If the kid gets COVID, I won’t be able to get my parents to watch her, because they are in their 80’s and very high risk. I don’t have any other potential sitters to take care of a COVID-infected child, so at this point, all I can do is cross my fingers and pray.

          1. L-squared*

            So again, not trying to sound rude here, but isn’t that what sick time is for? And I’m not unsympathetic to a sick kid, but I feel this letter is more talking about people “working” from home constantly while watching their kid, not the occasional having to deal with a sick kid. Those things are very different to me. I’m all for companies being flexible for parents of sick children, while also having no problem saying you can’t be the primary childcare provider while you are working.

            1. Eyes Kiwami*

              Ah yes, call centers and US workplaces in general are known for their generous paid sick leave policies. It’s not like COVID has wiped through many workers’ limited sick leave amounts, a phenomenon so common that Alison has already covered it:
              https://www.askamanager.org/2022/07/workers-are-running-out-of-time-off-and-companies-dont-care.html
              https://www.askamanager.org/2021/05/we-need-paid-family-and-medical-leave-and-a-new-bill-in-congress-would-give-it-to-us.html

              1. L-squared*

                That though is a completely separate issue than being the sole childcare provider ALL THE TIME, which this letter is about.

            2. Gravitation*

              How much sick time do people get? Federal additional sick leave for Covid ended. Caring for a kid with a “mild” case of Covid will likely be at least a full week out of child care if not more; if people in the family get infections at subsequent times it could mean it’s not safe to expose older relatives for even longer. Sick days are also for every other childhood illness and fever, as well as the normal checkups and appointments that kids had before Covid. Oh, and all of your own medical needs too, can’t forget that.

            3. MeepMeep123*

              When my daughter started daycare, she spent more time sick than she did well. We kept her home a lot because she was too sick to go to daycare. I was self-employed at the time so I didn’t have to contend with sick leave policies, but if I were working outside the home, I’d have run through all my sick time in about a month. And this was before COVID.

        4. FridayFriyay*

          This pretty much covers my experiences, with the additions of:
          Before/after school care at public school closed during covid and never reopened

          Old daycare hours slashed during covid and never restored (only open 9-4:30 now)

          Not to mention the random lengthy closures of classrooms/daycares due to worker illnesses and covid outbreaks, sometimes for a week or more at a time, exclusions for illness above and beyond what anyone would have anticipated pre-covid (and exacerbated now due to lack of masking and other covid precautions, esp when my kid is too young to reliably wear a mask), and actually getting covid, in some cases multiple times a year, with exclusion from childcare ranging from 5-10+ days each time. The situation is meaningfully different than it was pre-covid. Yes, still, because we are nowhere near being post-covid.

    2. Emily*

      >It’s a reasonable business decision to make, but when people tell you they can’t make it work, *believe them*, express regret, and tell them you’ll give them a good reference or whatever else you can do for them. Don’t act like they’re just not trying hard enough.

      Yes! You shouldn’t feel like you have to justify why actually, yes, this is a big deal/unworkable. How employers communicate choices like these really matters, even if ultimately the outcome is the same.

  33. That'sNotMyName*

    That grace period will have to be a long one. I live in an area that has “many” daycare options but most of them have long waitlists so not actual availability. Especially the ones who can care for kids under age 2. Many people end up having a stay at home parent or a nanny share or some other awkward combination of half measures.

    Some of the first people to know I was pregnant with my oldest were local daycare directors because I contacted them in my first trimester. Some didn’t bother to even respond to my inquiries. One place said they’d have an opening if I could wait until he was 1 year old (so, over 1.5 years into the future). It is generally easier for kids over 2 years, but would be harder in the middle of the school year. Some summer camps here start registration in the *fall* but most of the registration happens in January with most everything being fully booked by March/April. It is a scramble and exhausting.

    1. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

      Yes here I needed to put myself on daycare waitlists before I was pregnant because infant spots have a 1-2 year wait. My city of 70K people has like 60 spots a year for kids under 2.

  34. Weekender*

    I also recommend a HUGE grace period for people to get childcare in place if the policy is not implemented by say the first of the year. Where I live, summer camps/summer childcare programs book up in February for that summer.
    When my old company was starting to get people to come back, they announced hybrid return to work for April and were only providing about a 2-week grace period. Needless to say, all the parents with young kids went right to management because no one could get summer childcare in April for kids who were school age but not old enough to be home alone in the summer.
    As a result, my company delayed coming back to work until well after summer.

  35. learnedthehardway*

    I have worked from home for over 10 years. When my children were small, I had daycare or someone at home who was responsible for childcare.

    It isn’t possible to be focused on both a highly demanding job and a highly demanding toddler at the same time.

    I think it is quite reasonable to set expectations that the environment needs to be quiet and generally professional, and that families have appropriate childcare in place to enable the employee to be focused on their position.

    1. bookworm*

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that it’s possible to do a demanding job and parent a child simultaneously (or at least not do both well). The issue is that it really doesn’t seem like people are getting is that childcare is not AT ALL as available or affordable or reliable as it was when your children were small. So, at this point, setting an expectation of childcare may be reasonable and understandable from an individual business perspective, but the reality is it’s just not going to be possible for a LOT of families the way it used to be, and the reality of setting that expectation is that people are going to leave the workforce.

  36. Alice in Corporate Land*

    Given quarantine rules in childcare settings, the enormous expense of childcare, and an uncertain economy resulting in numerous layoffs, if my company required this of its employees it would result in an immediate job search. It is unreasonable to ask working parents to exist in a kid-free world.

    1. Paris Geller*

      Telling parents they cannot care for their children WHILE WORKING and have alternative arrangements is hardly asking them to exist in a “kid-free world”!!

      1. CheesePlease*

        A lot of us working parents additionally work in-person, and don’t have the option to care for children while we work. I think OP recognizes this will result in some employees leaving, but I think this policy isn’t unreasonable or overly harsh. My toddler needs attentive and dedicated care I simply cannot provide if I am also trying to work. So most days, she is in daycare and I am working. I appreciate my employer’s flexibility to allow me stay home when she is sick (and mostly sleeping) or for other unforeseen circumstances. But it is the expectation I dedicate myself solely to my job when I am working – just like every other employee here

      2. L-squared*

        Right? Like I feel like I’m going crazy with some of these responses that come down to, essentially “How dare my employer expect me to focus on my job while they are paying me to do that. And if they want to, then they better be willing to pay for my choice to have a child, or else”

        This just seems like shifty unnecessary responsbility to an employer. And I’m someone who almost never takes the side of a company, but some of these responses are out there.

        Now, I am totally fine with saying companies should give more PTO and be more flexible for how its used. One of my best friends is a guy who works from home. He also has unlimited PTO. So if he needs to stay home wtih his son, he can do that easily. But he isn’t trying to juggle meetings AND changing diapers.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I don’t think anyone’s saying that! It’s more just, this is a reasonable business decision, but be realistic that it’s likely to be prohibitive for a significant proportion of the workforce, and you need to factor that in.

          There tends to be a wild overconfidence in people who aren’t personally at the sharp end of managing childcare and work that it must just be doable, because people do it. A lot of people don’t realise the extent to which they’re experiencing survivor bias: it *isn’t* doable for a large proportion of people, and that’s how the salary gap opens up and also how lots of families and communities end up in poverty.

          I completely agree as a principle that this is a problem that should be solved at a government level not an employer level. But realistically and pragmatically, LW’s company might be better off figuring out if there’s a way they can make this work better for their existing employees than dealing with a 30% turnover or waiting for the government to fix childcare.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            You’re entirely correct. We can say “childcare is available” or “my cousin has three kids under four and works full time from home she’s a high performer” or “we did it fine before COVID” and say here, on paper, that everyone just needs to make it work. Or even “it would be great if employers subsidized childcare” – sure, I doubt most employers can afford that and you’re opening a whole can of worms around equity.

            There’s “how we wish the world worked” and the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation sucks for everyone. That includes the parents, the employers, the people with no kids picking up any slack – no one is enjoying this. But it’s what we’ve got and when we make these policies we need to be realistic.

        2. ZeldaFitz*

          I don’t think anyone is saying “how dare my employer expect me to focus on my job”!

          The reality right now though, is that childcare costs are prohibitively expensive for someone working the frontline at a call center. With this in mind, the call center can:

          a) Require reliable daycare for everyone. That 100% will mean they will lose a chunk of their workforce, since about 70% of call center workers are women, and the average age is around 40 years old. Given what we know about unpaid caretaking trends, a disproportionate number of people forced to quit over this policy will be women of color. The business, I guess, can decide if they value women and women of color in their workforce. They’ll probably also be dealing with a labor relations issue, and I hope they’re saving some of the money they’ll not be paying in salaries soon on lawyers that specialize in union relations.
          b) Keep with the status quo. That doesn’t seem great, people without kids will be forced to pick up the slack, and all the problems OP laid out.
          c) Raise wages to keep up with childcare inflation, and/or offer some kind of childcare benefits. That could be in the form of vouchers, a stipend, etc.

          1. SoloKid*

            “They’ll probably also be dealing with a labor relations issue”

            What do you mean? Legal action on not having child care? Parents are a protected class when it comes to housing – not jobs afaik.

              1. SoloKid*

                facepalm on my part – you had it in the next sentence.

                I don’t have a child but my cat was distracting me lol.

        3. LizB*

          my choice to have a child

          It is in no way a given that parents in the US chose to have their kid(s), and notably less so now than a few months ago, so this will be an even less safe assumption moving forward.

          This fact doesn’t shift any more responsibility to the employer, but it’s worth factoring in to the overall view of our entire national childcare debacle.

        4. MeepMeep123*

          Well, but the employer can’t force people to work for them either, right? People have the right to decide that their job has unsustainable requirements that don’t work with their lives, and to start looking for a better option. Throwing a fit about how “no one wants to work these days” is not going to make the job any more workable for someone for whom it really isn’t. And while it is certainly possible for a job to require celibacy and childlessness, the employer shouldn’t be too surprised when potential employees look elsewhere.

          I have a kid and I wouldn’t take a job like that. If I have to choose between having a kid and having a job that requires childlessness, I’d rather have the kid and find a different job. It’s not like call center jobs are something that people dream about doing. And considering that those call center jobs pay peanuts, it’s not like this is a dream salary either.

          1. L-squared*

            Sure. But I also feel that every job just isn’t feasible for everyone’s situation, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

            I live in Chicago, and have no car. Based on this, I’m limited in the jobs I can take. They either need to be fully remote, or accessible via public transportation. THat works for most stuff within the city, but once you start looking at suburbs, it just may not be workable. And look, if a company wants me enough, sure they could decide to pay for or subsidize my daily uber rides, but I don’t think that is really a fair expectation either.

            Childcare is no different IMO. If you have a young child and no one to take care of them during the day, there may then be limits on the jobs you can realistically take. Maybe you need very specific hours, or someplace with childcare on site, or whatever works for you.
            But I don’t think its fair to expect the company to be responsible for that.

            Its fair for the company to have their policies, and its also fair for an individual to decide what works for them.

            1. Hex Code*

              On this context, subsidized child care is more akin to the road or the public transit to get to your job. You could have chosen to live in walking distance to a job, but instead you have access to roads other people paid for or transit infrastructure that others helped put in place. This allows you to better access a job and your employer to have access to a larger pool of employees. I personally work from home and don’t need it but I still pay for it. So don’t be so quick to dismiss all the other ways that parents support you.

              1. L-squared*

                Not really, because once again. the roads are paid by the government, not by a company. As i’ve said many times, I’m totally fine advocating that the government should do something regarding child care. But I don’t think you can feasibly compare every tax payer paying for roads with a company paying for/subsidizing childcare