Day care's new frontier: Your baby at your desk

Hewlett handles employee orientation and greets new hires by showing up with Scout in a carrier strapped to her chest. Being able to bring her baby to work, she says, has deepened her loyalty to her company.

"I feel extremely indebted to have this opportunity," she says. "I can't even imagine working anywhere else."

The babies-at-work trend is drawing criticism on several fronts. Bringing children to the office — whether once in a while or every day — raises legal concerns for employers, creates a distraction that can undermine workers' productivity and may not be the best environment for a baby to get interaction and stimulation, critics say.

"There are concerns that employees may feel unable to complain if their managers bring in babies," says Robin Ryan, a career coach and author of Soaring on Your Strengths.

"Babies may cause such a distraction that other employees who want to spend time with the infant find it hard to focus on their own work," Ryan says. "Still others say that bringing babies to work can make new parents look less devoted and focused on their jobs."

Ryan also says most people will tolerate a one-time visit to the office by a baby, but having a child in the office every day is another matter. "The reality is, the parent can't pay 100% attention to the job, and the child is often distracting to other employees," Ryan says.

She recalls a situation in which a doctor who brought her infant to a hospital in a sling around her neck was unsure what to do when she needed to perform a medical procedure, because the baby was in the way.

'It's a distraction'

Some employees who've worked with baby-toting parents agree that it's not a good idea.

Mike Prencipe, 48, managing partner of HR Staffing Solutions in Springfield, Va., had a colleague who brought an infant to work three days a week.

"You'd have a client calling and you had a screaming baby in the background," Prencipe says. "First off, it's a distraction. Everyone wants to ooh and aah over the baby. And it's a distraction to the parent, because they have to tend to the baby first, as well they should. I don't think it's a good idea."

At Maya Design, a consulting firm and technology research lab in Pittsburgh, new parents can bring babies to the office until they are about 6 months old. There are stipulations: no infants with a fever higher than 100 degrees, and parents must sign a liability waiver.

When word got out that babies would be allowed at work, some employees expressed concerns to management.

Gemperle, who works at Maya and brought son Milo to the office, says she breast-fed him in a special room. She borrowed a compact bassinet that she kept next to her desk, along with a supply of blankets, diapers and a changing pad; she changed Milo in the restroom. After going to work with his mother for six weeks, Milo, now 2, began going to day care.

"I would wear him in a BabyBjörn (carrier) in meetings and just stand and bounce him around. At 12 weeks, he would make noise and flap his arms when co-workers would walk by," Gemperle says.

To avoid problems, she sent an e-mail to co-workers within 15 to 20 feet of her cubicle and warned they would sometimes hear a baby going "blah blah or gurgling."

To help avoid pitfalls, several companies have drafted policies that cover everything from whether sick children are allowed to how to handle complaints.

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