SFA’s new children in the workplace policy facing opposition

The policy refers to children 13 and younger and is dependent on other childcare options

SFA’s new children in the workplace policy facing opposition

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Stephen F. Austin State University has introduced a new policy concerning its staff members and children in the workplace, and it has not gone unnoticed by parents employed on campus.

The new policy bars children from being on campus in lieu of another form of child care, and states that any child under 13 years old “cannot disrupt the workplace," and that a having a child on campus cannot be a substitute to regular childcare.

The policy summary form explains further, stating that the purpose “is to support the university’s commitment to fostering a healthy balance between workplace obligations and family," and violating the policy could lead to disciplinary measures or even termination.

“That’s the issue, adequate daycare, then they can better do their jobs, and that affects me,” said Dr. Paul Sandul, an associate professor of history. “If it’s a staff member, if it’s a janitor, whomever it is, I have a vested interest as an SFA employee that they could do their job to the best of their ability. If they do not have viable daycare, or affordable daycare, or a work environment that allows them to supervise their children in the workplace, then it affects all of SFA.”

Shirley Luna, executive director of University Marketing Communications Office, said the policy was proposed because of numerous complaints received by human resources during the summer of 2018 regarding children of employees disrupting the work environment.

Dr. Judy A. Abbott, the dean of education, said she was one of the staff members who filed a complaint. She said handling the issue internally didn’t work because there was no policy in place.

“Employees were pushing back on that saying there’s no policy that prevents children from being in the workplace," Abbott said.

So, policy drafting began, but according to opponents of the new policy, administration ignored their concerns about about the proposed restrictions. Dr. Scott Sosebee, an associate professor of history, thinks the debate is reflective of a much bigger issue on campus.

“There’s some mistrust between administration and the faculty. It’s being framed like it was presented to the faculty senate, and we were looking for faculty input, but that was not really the case," Sosebee said. "Faculty senate heard about it on some people on campus, and we asked them to come and present the policy. Then they did.”

Education professor Dr. Heather Olson Beal has grown children, but the pictures they drew while hanging out in her office as children are still displayed.

“My daughter was just telling me that one of her greatest childhood memories was coming up here to my office with me occasionally after school, or whatever, sometime during the summer," Beal said. "So she thinks it’s sad that other people won’t be able to do that with their parents.”

Abbott said supervisor permission and a well-behaved child could provide faculty the privilege of their kids in private offices. However, it will be more difficult for staffers.

“It’s less likely that the supervisor is going to support having a child with the parent except for very short periods of time on very rare occasions because of the nature of the work," Abbott said.

There are measures in place to appeal the policy.

SFA has released an official statement regarding its children in the workplace policy:

While SFA welcomes young children and families to campus, we also must provide guidelines to protect children and to maintain a professional workplace environment.

The policy was proposed because of the numerous complaints received by SFA’s Department of Human Resources during the summer of 2018 regarding children of employees disrupting the work environment. Supervisors who were attempting to handle situations regarding children in the workplace received pushback from employees specifically because there was not a policy that prohibited a child’s presence; those situations created the necessity for this policy.

SFA diligently sought feedback from groups representing faculty and staff across the campus, including the Faculty Senate, which is charged with the responsibility of representing faculty across campus. Human Resources also gathered and considered feedback from employee groups such as our Directors Forum and the Deans Forum. The University Compliance Committee supported researching and developing a policy. The academic affairs policy committee, which includes faculty members, deans and department chairs, worked many hours on the policy to make sure it is fair for all concerned.

The parameters of the policy do not prohibit children from attending special occasions, SFA-sponsored activities, events that are open to the public, and limited occasions when a child accompanies an employee to the workplace. The policy does not pertain to SFA students who might occasionally bring their children with them to class.

The policy gives supervisors the ability to make decisions that facilitate the operation of their areas in the most effective manner possible – to make fair decisions that take into account extenuating circumstances, sometimes on a case-by-case basis. This policy gives leaders across campus the authority to provide leeway when it’s needed, but also to prevent manipulation of the system when that is attempted.

The policy supports a management response to any disruptions to the workplace, but as with all policies, allows discretion in determining appropriate actions for the department. The policy allows for certain exceptions while ensuring that the workplace remains productive and focused on teaching, research and providing a transformative experience for our students.

The policy states that “continuous failure to comply with the policy could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.” A similar statement is found in multiple university policies, and it accommodates progressive levels of discipline while allowing termination for certain circumstances as deemed appropriate. (The Faculty Code of Conduct policy prescribes an investigation process, and before a tenured or tenure-tracked faculty member could be terminated, there would be a hearing before other faculty members, in accordance with the Tenure and Continued Employment policy. The Discipline and Discharge policy for staff uses a progressive discipline system (Corrective Disciplinary Actions, policy 11.4). In other words, this policy does not operate in isolation from all other policies regarding how discipline would actually be carried out.)

There are several benefits and/or perks that are offered by SFA. The SFA employee benefit package allows for pre-tax deductions from an employee’s compensation to cover childcare, and several university departments offer camps during summer breaks that children of employees may attend. In some circumstances, SFA allows alternative work schedules. Managers may approve alternative schedules based upon operational efficiencies of their department. The alternative schedules include compressed workweeks, flexible schedules and staggered work hours.

SFA will continue to provide a family-friendly culture, but we feel that the majority of our employees agree that while workplace obligations and family should be balanced, there are certain times when there must be a level of separation.

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