VIRGINIA BEACH — If one City Council member has her way the city itself may soon have a new policy, one that would allow city employees to bring their babies to work with them.
Such a policy, said Council member Jessica Abbott, would be beneficial in more than one way.
“As a city we should want to offer benefits and programs that support our families,” she said. “Retaining talent should be our No. 1 goal. Plus, training new talent is very expensive.”
Abbott and her husband Matthew Cheatham have a son, Desmond, and also a newborn daughter, Opal. Abbott raised a few eyebrows when she started bringing Opal to a select council meetings.
“The philosophy has always been that women have to choose between a career and a family. It is possible to do both,” she said, noting the importance of bonding by parents with their newborn.
Abbott has been researching existing policies across the nation that allow staff to bring their infants to work. Although she has been unable to find any on a local level, she has found quite a few in use by state and federal agencies. Most of the policies make allowances for parents to bring their babies to work with them up until the baby is anywhere between 3 and 6 months of age.
“If they can make it work, we can make it work,” Abbott said. “And the policy isn’t just for females, but for men too. Bonding with both parents is equally important.”
She has already been in contact with the City Attorney’s Office concerning possible legal aspects of such a policy and she hopes to have a draft of her proposal ready to bring to council by the end of May, making it available for comment in June.
The policy will also, she added, “include language to ensure that there are locations designated for breastfeeding or expressing of milk in compliance with Sec. 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
While her fellow council members have been supportive of her bringing Opal to some of the meetings — and a number of city employees have also expressed their support — Abbott admits there have been a few negative comments, mainly on social media.
Some have sarcastically asked how a firefighter might fight a fire with baby in hand, while others have suggested also allowing dogs to be brought to work.
Abbott acknowledges that consideration needs to be made for the various professional positions, but that those who work at a desk or in a cubicle could easily handle their infant while still effectively doing their job.
“People expect a lot from you as a City Council member. But having my baby with me doesn’t impact my ability to do my (elected) duty,” she said.
Julie Hill, director of the city’s Communications Office, said there is currently no rule on the books that prohibits council members from bringing infants to meetings.
However, everyone seems to agree that any policy adopted allowing infants in the workplace would need to include a maximum age.