Do parents get all the perks?

Several years ago, human resources executives at Baptist Health South Florida in Miami decided to launch a telework program. Among their concerns was how childless employees would perceive the company’s treatment of work-at-home parents.

Would benefits such as flextime, compressed work weeks and telework appear to benefit employees with kids more than those without? Would dissention, resentment and claims of favouritism erupt?

To head off the problem, executives paired single, childless and parent employees on a task force to write the program’s guidelines, says Anne Streeter, assistant vice-president for work-life programs.

The resulting guidelines helped forge a policy that met the needs of the entire group and avoid complaints about a program that favoured parents or care-givers.

“Our guidelines define ‘family’ more broadly than just employees with kids,” Streeter says. “You have to address employees’ personal lives, too, not just whether they have kids or family.”

Proponents of equal pay for equal work complain of inequality in corporate family-friendly policies – including those that offer compressed work weeks, leaves of absence, telework and flextime to working parents. Most of today’s workforce has no young children, so such family-friendly policies are seen by some as favouring employees with kids.

What’s more, teleworking parents spend less time in the office and might be seen as forcing their in-office peers to carry more of the load. But this is often just a misunderstanding between in-office workers and their remote peers. While some employees might work in the office less, they often make up the time working outside traditional office hours as well – a point managers should bring to the fore.

When selecting teleworkers, the best way managers can avoid claims of favouritism is to evaluate each candidate based only on performance criteria, ability to work from home and whether their tasks can be performed outside the home office, says Jane Anderson, director with nonprofit telework consultancy Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education in Minneapolis.

Managers cannot ask whether the worker has children at home who could be distracting, according to Equal Employment Opportunity law. Instead, Anderson recommends they pose the question: Is there anything in your home office environment that could distract you from performing your job?

“You have to realize that single people have distractions at home, too,” she says. “And managers should never have to weigh which employee has the better reason to telework.”

Jeff Zbar is an author and speaker on telework, free agency, and small or home office (SOHO) issues. His books include Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security (FirstPublish, 2001) and Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (Made E-Z Products, 2000). Jeff works from home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Questions or comments? Write him