By Cheryl Blake
In determining how any size employer accommodates families, a good place to begin is Feminists for Life’s Family-Friendly Workplace Evaluation, from “Raising Expectations in the Workplace.” This tool helps to identify what policies, resources, employer and community support, and communications strategies employees and employers can use to work together. Among the issues covered in Feminists for Life’s survey are flexibility in work situations, accessibility for parents, health, safety, and family leave.
Does the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act apply to small companies?
Not all employers meet and exceed the FMLA standards. FMLA applies to companies with 50 or more employees. Smaller companies may comply with FMLA, but they are not obligated to do so.
If a company is too small to make on-site day care available, what alternatives might be offered?
Companies with few employees might assume that on-site day care would be too expensive. However, even a small business could negotiate with a day care facility for better rates for their employees.
Telecommuting and flex-time are increasingly used solutions when on-site day care is impossible or cost prohibitive and have the added benefit for parents who seek more time with their children. Admittedly, help with the children would still be required, in particular those of preschool age, but commuting times and child care use might at least be reduced.
Among possible flexible scheduling alternatives supported by Feminists for Life are the following:
- compressed work weeks in which full-time hours are spread over fewer than five full days,
- flex-time in which the beginning and end of work days do not necessarily correspond to traditional hours as long as important business hours are covered,
- job sharing when two people split a full-time position,
- telework in which at least some of the tasks are performed off-site, often at home,
- part-time alternatives allowing fewer hours and prorated pay and benefits,
- and for full-time staff, returning part-time before resuming a full-time schedule.
What about health insurance during pregnancy and for children?
Some small workplaces do not provide adequate if any health insurance. Medicaid and CHIP are two possible alternatives for low-income parents who want to ensure health care for their children. CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, is specifically for families whose income is above the Medicaid levels which might solve health care coverage for parents who are underemployed or just beginning careers. CHIP covers insurance for pregnant women who are working but low income and whose company doesn’t provide health care. In addition, if a workplace already extends coverage to dependents, the cost and amount of coverage should make health care reasonable for parents. Prioritizing better insurance when negotiating for family-friendly benefits makes sense. For more information about insurance and health care, see the health care page.
Are there other perks a small business might offer parents?
Setting aside a lactation room is one possibility. Also, Commongood Careers suggests that small, nonprofit employers can be creative in developing policies that encourage recruitment and retention. Besides unpaid summer vacations, flex-time and working from home, the group encourages part-time arrangements and a couple of agency holidays as relatively low-cost methods of improving the work environment. Advantages to parents who are employees outweigh the small expense for the nonprofit organization. As in private businesses and government agencies, management training is key to successful implementation of family-friendly policies.
By Cheryl Blake