NEW YORK — With schools around the country back in session, parents who work at small businesses will be asking for and receiving time off for soccer games and class plays — possibly leading to some friction because other workers don't have such ironclad reasons for leaving early.
Business owners and human resources executives say companies can avoid such problems with equitable time-off policies — in other words, by recognizing that all employees regardless of their personal circumstances need a work-life balance. Encouraging an atmosphere of mutuality and goodwill among co-workers can also head off conflicts and resentments when one staffer leaves early.
Colleen Haviland, founder and president of Xsell Resources Inc. and Ready to Hire, two businesses in Willow Grove, Pa., sees no difference between giving parents time off for a child's game and giving childless workers time to go to sporting or theatrical events.
"No matter if it's children or any type of other commitment, we all have a real life outside of work," Haviland said. "Everyone needs to support each other in their real life in order to have synergy in the workplace."
She sees this kind of approach as an integral part of fostering good relationships with staffers.
"If they're a good employee, when they're here they give 110 percent, so you should make exceptions for them," Haviland said.
At Kel & Partners, a Hopkinton, Mass., a marketing services agency, "We don't limit flexibility to parents," President Ginny Pitcher said, noting that some staffers need time off to care for elderly parents or grandparents. "We've built a mutual foundation of respect between employees."
Pitcher said employees who need time away from the office make sure they get their work done, and they don't dump responsibilities on co-workers. As a result, she said, when a parent takes time off for a child's baseball game, other staffers are likely to be asking the next morning, "How did Justin do? Did he pitch well?"
Similarly, another staffer who needs time to care for an ill grandparent is likely to be asked, "Can I help you out?" she said.
Pitcher said staffers don't try to take advantage of the situation — they'll be checking e-mail later in the day to see what they might have missed. And, she said, "hopefully you hire the right people who understand what you're trying to achieve."
Bonnie Beirne, director of service operations for Administaff Inc., a Houston-based human resources and staffing company, noted that today's work force tends to be very diverse with parents, non-parents and empty-nesters, who may want time off for a variety of reasons. She suggests employers institute a policy of paid time off, also known as PTO.
"Typically, when you have a PTO plan, employees can take time off for any reason — it doesn't really require any justification," Beirne said.
Paid time off allows employees to feel they're being treated equally, and also relieves an owner or manager from having to be an arbiter of what is a reasonable request for time away from work.
Employees need to feel "they're treated in a consistent way and they have the same opportunity as other employees to request time off for personal needs," Beirne said.
Jennifer Blum Feldman, an attorney with the law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen LLP in Philadelphia, suggests owners think about how to handle time off requests before the situation comes up — in other words, develop a policy that will prevent questions of unfairness that can arrive if a boss tries to grant requests on a case by case basis. She noted, though, that an employee's job description and the company's staffing needs should be considered.
"Sit down and think about how you want to handle it, which ones can have flexibility and which positions do need to be there for core hours," she said.
Feldman noted that without a policy, employers could inadvertently be discriminating against some staffers when granting time off. For example, she noted, if mothers are allowed to leave early because of children's needs but male staffers don't receive similar treatment, there could be a perception of discrimination — a violation of federal law.
She also noted that some state laws might give more protection to employees than federal law does. So it's safest to consult a labor relations attorney or human resources specialist when formulating a policy.
Jason Manase, CEO of Los Angeles-based AccuScore.com, a sports forecasting Web site, recognizes employees' need for a balance between their work and personal lives.
"We have an expectation of people to do the work that needs to be done. At the same time, most of the people who have families have a family-first priority," he said.
He understands the situation, being a new father himself.
"If your people are happy at home, a lot of time that translates to a lot of happiness at work," he said.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.