- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - For Cara Sanchez, every day for the next few months will be Bring Your Child to Work Day.

Sanchez, who works in the workers’ compensation office at the Kansas Department of Labor, brings her 3-month-old son, Cain, to work as part of a program in some state offices allowing new parents to bring their babies until they are 180 days old. She previously used the program when her 2-year-old son was an infant.

“I think the greatest thing about it is you have more time to bond with your baby,” she said. “If we didn’t have the program, he would have had to start day care being only 6 weeks old.”

Topeka employers use a variety of tactics to try to help parents juggle full-time work and raising a family, though offering flexibility for parents is optional. The Family Medical Leave Act requires unpaid maternity leave only for women in covered workplaces. Some states require more leave for at least some employees, but Kansas isn’t one of them, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported ((https://bit.ly/1APit2p ).

Sanchez said her co-workers have been supportive, and she has worked out a schedule to take advantage of the time Cain is sleeping. Much of the time, he is entertained by watching whatever is happening around him, she said.

“You learn how to kind of multi-task,” she said. “It’s like you’re a full-time mom and a full-time employee.”

Kyle Williams, director of human relations for the Kansas Department of Labor, said parents need to take the child to a designated area if the baby becomes fussy and might disturb others, and can’t bring a sick child into the office. They also need to have an agreement with two other workers to take care of the baby if the parent needs to participate in a meeting or phone call, he said.

Lana Gordon, secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, said disruption hasn’t been a major problem, since babies tend to spend much of the first months of their lives asleep, and many employees have private offices. The idea is to make it easier for parents to navigate returning to work, she said.

“It’s always a struggle, probably, for new parents, having to balance out taking care of a baby and going back to work,” she said.

Bob St. Peter, who is the president of the Kansas Health Institute and previously worked as a pediatrician, said KHI based its program for bringing infants to work on one used by some state agencies, though it set the limit at the age of 150 days.

Older employees often enjoy remembering the days when they had young children, St. Peter said, and employees who haven’t yet decided whether they want children sometimes look at it as a learning experience. Generally, parents worry more about the baby being disruptive than their co-workers do, he said.

“Most of our internal meetings, the babies (would) come,” he said. “Most of the time they’d sleep. When they get around three, four months, they’re more attentive, looking around, occasionally chime in with a comment.”

Lyndsey Burkhart, a senior administrative assistant at KHI, said she agreed to be a backup caregiver during the workday for three children in recent years. Usually, the parents would schedule with her in advance so she could arrange her day to make it easier to have a baby at her desk, and there were only a few times when she had to find a quiet place to soothe a fussy child, she said.

Burkhart said she still has pictures of the children she baby-sat at work and she enjoyed getting to know them.

“Now it feels like I have this stake in this short piece of their childhood,” she said. “I loved being the backup.”

Security Benefit took a different tactic, and has had a daycare in the building next door since 1992, spokeswoman Suzie Gilbert said. Security Benefit Academy takes care of more than 100 children aged 6 weeks to 6 years, most of whom are children or grandchildren of employees, she said. Another 36 take part in a program for children up to age 12 during school breaks.

Jenifer Purvis, vice president of human resources at Security Benefit, said children in the program benefit from outdoor activities, creative projects and holiday activities, and breastfeeding mothers can easily come over during the workday. She said her two children participated in the summer program after she moved to Topeka in 1999.

“They were close by me, but they were going out on field trips,” she said. “I knew they were safe.”

Bringing children to work isn’t feasible in all offices, however, and some employers use other ways to help parents. Alissa Menke, senior digital strategist at marketing firm jhP, said the office took steps to make it easier when she came back from maternity leave when her 19-month-old was born. Curtains and a mini-fridge allowed her to express milk conveniently, she said.

“I was able to take care of everything without leaving my office chair,” she said.

Menke said she and her co-workers also can shift their schedules so they can drop off their children at school or daycare and pick them up, or attend school functions, with the exception of when a meeting is at a specific time.

“We trust that you will get your work done, even if that doesn’t occur within the traditional 8 to 5” workday, she said. “Everyone here takes time off during the day to make sure they’re taking care of the things they need to do … to keep family life as healthy as work life.”

Jeff Peterson, president of Peterson Publications, which produces magazines and brochures, said flexible schedules also are important to his employees. Some employees come in and leave early, he said, and some have arrangements to work from home two days a week, so they can save on childcare.

Much of the work of publishing is done by computer, Peterson said, so it is easier for people to work from home or outside normal working hours than it would be in some industries. If someone needs to go to their children’s activities during work hours, for example, they can finish that work later, he said.

Larger publishers might be able to offer higher salaries, Peterson said, so giving employees more control over their schedules is a way to keep them from moving on.

“Owning a small business, you need to provide some benefits that maybe some larger businesses can’t,” he said. “I think we get paid back in their dedication. We have a lot of longevity with the people that work here.”

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com


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