Q: Twice this week, co-workers on my team have been allowed to "work from home" (without using PTO) on days when they are also supervising their children. One was home with a sick 2-year-old. The other reprimanded her son while on a conference call. This isn't the first time, and I have mentioned to my manager how it seems unfair and unprofessional, but he seems to have no problem with it, as he is the one who approves them working from home. I feel like he thinks I'm making a fuss because I don't have children. I have occasionally used the work-from-home privilege when I've had repairmen coming to my house or a lunchtime appointment close to home. But I feel that if you are supervising young children the entire day, you are not really "working from home" and are taking advantage of the system to avoid finding day care and using PTO [paid time off]. Am I being unreasonable? Should I mention this to HR?
A: I notice this e-mail was time-stamped in the middle of a weekday. But I'll grant you the benefit of the doubt and assume you wrote it during your unpaid lunch hour.
Should your co-workers use paid leave when actively caring for the germ-spewing, ill-behaved progeny they presumably chose to have? Sure. Should they learn to mute their phones? Duh.
But let me offer some possibilities that may not have occurred to you: Maybe your co-workers are working while the kids are napping or sprawled in front of the TV. Maybe they're making up time late into the night, hours after you've logged off for the day. Maybe they're able to complete in a few hours the tasks the rest of us spread over a "full day" in the office between online shopping, sports chats and Facebook. Maybe they're honestly scrambling to patch together a working solution from whatever scraps of support they can gather.
Then again, maybe your co-workers regularly — as in, weekly or daily — abuse your gullible boss' generosity to avoid paying for regular day care. Another possibility — the only one that entitles you to complain to the boss — is that you're consistently required to make up their shortfall at the expense of your own sanity. One worker's right to work-life balance does not trump another's.
Absent those last two scenarios, however, it sounds to me as though your boss simply trusts his workers to meet their responsibilities. Speaking as someone who once was a child-free worker, I think you should be grateful to have a boss who is trying to create a more humane workplace — not just for folks raising children, but for any worker with a parent, partner or pal who someday may need looking after.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. She has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.