Is It Okay to Bring Your Kid to Work When Your Child Care Falls Through?

small boy with phone and...

Is it ever okay to bring a child to work with you when your child care arrangements fall through? If you wake up to a sick kid who can't go to school or if your normal child care provider cancels and you don't have a back-up, you might be wondering if you can simply bring your kid to work with you. Or you might have noticed a co-worker doing this on occasion and wondered what the rules are about when this is and isn't okay.

First and foremost, the answer depends on your workplace culture. There are some offices where this absolutely isn't done, and where doing it would be considered wildly unprofessional and inappropriate. But there are also offices where it's considered okay to do in rare emergencies. (There are even a handful of offices where it's okay to do more often than that, but those set-ups are unusual, and you probably already know if you're working in one of them.) But the first step here is to understand the culture where you're working.

Second, make sure your boss is okay with it. Even in a workplace that's friendly to working parents and where kids make an occasional appearance in other departments, your particular manager might frown on it. So make sure your boss doesn't object before you show up with a kid in tow – or, if it's a last-minute emergency, give her a heads-up that explains the situation as soon as you can.

From there, your priorities need to be minimizing the impact on your co-workers and on your own work. And be aware that kid noise that might feel normal to you can be jarring to your co-workers, even to co-workers who have kids themselves, since they're generally expecting a quieter environment at work. That means that you should close your door if you have one; make sure your child has books, toys, or other quiet forms of entertainment; ensure they're supervised at all times; and be prepared to take a crying baby (or an older kid having a meltdown) outside.

And think twice before asking co-workers to babysit if you need to go to a meeting or even just run down the hall. It might seem like a small favor, but it can be a big imposition on someone who has their own work to do or who just doesn't feel comfortable being responsible for someone else's kids. And if you're a manager, be especially cautious about asking your own employees to do this, since they're much less likely to feel comfortable telling you no. (And having someone watching your kid who doesn't really want to do it isn't good for anyone, including your child.)

There are also times when you shouldn't bring your kids to work even with the precautions above in place:
  • When you're new on the job. As with taking time off in your first month, this can make your new manager and co-workers wonder if this is going to be a regular thing. It raises questions that won't be issues when they know you and your work better.
  • When your kids are high-energy (their energy or yours). Ultimately, an office is a place of business. If they're going to significantly distract from that, bringing them in isn't fair to your co-workers or your employer.
  • When your kids are contagious. Bringing sick kids into work with you can seem like the easiest solution, but it's likely to frustrate your co-workers, who won't appreciate the germ exposure (unless you can keep them truly contained). (And of course, depending on the illness, your sick kid might be much more comfortable at home in bed than stuck in a conference room.)
  • When it's the substitute for solving an ongoing child care problem. Most co-workers will understand that even the best plans fall through now and then. But if your child care arrangements are falling through regularly, that's a sign that you need to shore up those arrangements rather than relying on your office to be the back-up plan.

Ultimately, as with most things in the workplace, this question comes down to knowing your office and your manager and being thoughtful about how your actions impact co-workers. People will generally cut you a bit of slack if they can see that you're making an effort on those fronts.
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