- Departments in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington state and Vermont let state employees bring their infants to work.
- The option is growing mostly in states that don't offer paid family leave.
- Six states currently have paid family leave laws, but not all of them cover public workers.
Kassandra Diederich has it all planned out. After the 36-year-old assistant attorney general in Vermont returns from parental leave this month, she’ll bring her newborn daughter to work two days a week.
“I have a door to my office I can close,” she says. “I envision having a Rock 'n Play [baby sleeper] for her to sleep in.”
Diederich will be among the first to participate in Vermont’s “Infants in the Workplace” program, an initiative for state government employees launched by Gov. Phil Scott last month. With approval from their supervisors, new parents can bring their babies to work when they are six weeks to six months old.
It's one way Vermont is trying to attract more millennials to the public sector in a state that's much older than the national average and aging every year.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for young parents to be more drawn to work in state government,” says Dan Pouliot, deputy commissioner of the state’s human resources department.
The new policy also helps parents bond with their children and save on child care, which costs an average of $8,700 a year nationwide.
Vermont isn’t the only state letting every day be "Bring Your Baby to Work Day.” This is a growing trend, largely in states that lack a paid family leave law. Select departments in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, North Dakota and Washington state offer the perk.
"It really points to the fact that people are not satisfied with the status quo ... [and] ... know we need a better balance between people's ability to work and support their families,” says Vasu Reddy, the senior policy counsel for workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.
The Push for Paid Family Leave
In addition to the Infants in the Workplace program, Republican Gov. Scott is also pushing for a bi-state voluntary paid family leave program with New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu. It would replace 60 percent of workers' wages, be run by a private insurer and funded by the states. Scott said “we’ll be able to do it without putting another mandate on businesses or adding to the tax burden of our citizens.”
“By working together and with a private insurer we will be able to start this program more quickly, effectively and reliably than if each state government had to start from scratch,” the governors said in a statement.
But Democratic lawmakers, who control the Vermont Legislature, think Scott’s plan doesn't go far enough. They’re instead advancing a bill to require all employers to offer 12 weeks of paid family leave a year. That plan would replace 100 percent of wages and be funded by a payroll tax of just under 1 percent, split evenly between employers and employees. Scott, however, vetoed a similar bill last year.
"I think it's great that governors of Vermont and New Hampshire are taking interest in paid leave," says Reddy. "But the solution they've come up with ... isn't really adequate."
Six states -- California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, plus the District of Columbia -- currently have paid family leave laws, ranging from four to 12 weeks. But some of these laws don't cover all state workers. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom recently proposed a plan to offer six months of leave in California.
Without paid parental leave, bringing your baby to work could be the next best option for some new moms and dads. Some parents might even prefer it to taking months off work.
Washington state's program started with health department employees in 2015 and has since been adopted by roughly 20 agencies. Kim Kenderesi, who coordinates the initiative for the health department, says it’s been “fantastic” and that workplace disruption “really hasn't been an issue.” They’ve had a total of 76 babies participate and often put on “graduation” ceremonies for the children.
Not an Option for Everyone
In Vermont, the benefit won’t be available to all state workers. It's up to state agencies to decide whether they want to opt in. Early participants include the departments of administration, agriculture, digital services, education, labor, natural resources and transportation. The governor’s office is encouraging all agencies to take part.
There are also some workplaces where infants won't be allowed at all -- correctional facilities or state vehicles, for instance. This has drawn criticism from the union representing state workers, the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA).
“It’s not fair that one parent gets this and another parent doesn’t,” VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard told VT Digger last month. “They shouldn’t be treating one employee differently than another.”
The state HR department counters that some workplaces are simply not appropriate for infants.
As these debates continue, employees like Diederich look forward to taking advantage of the new policy.
"I think it helps promote a healthy work-life balance,” she says. “I think it's phenomenal. ... It makes me feel more trusted and valued."