“Family Friendly” Only Starts With Maternity/Paternity Leave, It Doesn’t End There

Yesterday’s read, Yelp Fired A Single Mother Today: Me, struck a chord within me. I work with a lot of parents (and have one on the way myself!), and from the outside looking in, building a family is controlled chaos. Every day is Anything-Can-Happen Day.

Companies need to recognize this. Life doesn’t just return to normal after maternity/paternity leave; the challenge has only just begun. A truly family-friendly environment has to be flexible enough to work with the every day emergencies that happen for decades.

Anything-Can-Happen Day

Nearly every family I know in tech has two working parents. And they simply have to trade off ‘who’s at bat’ for whatever today’s emergency is.

Here are just a few scenarios that could happen:

  • Your kid wakes up with a high fever? Doctor visit. Most daycares won’t let them in so you also have to plan for backup if you want to go into work that day.
  • Your nanny calls in sick and your family doesn’t live close by? You’re a stay-at-home parent for the day.
  • Your teenager gets into a bike accident and needs surgery? You may be out for days without any prior notice.

Even predictable, every-day-schedule management has challenges if both parents are working. For example, whether your kid is in the care of a day care or a nanny, they have start and end times, and those times don’t care about what you have to do today. Which means that one of you has to take care of the drop off/handoff and pick up/handoff on both ends of the day. Even if both partners trade off, it generally means someone has to be home by 6pm sharp, and being at the office no earlier than 8:30am for the other partner. I know people who work in tech, especially engineering types, who roll into the office after 10am, but the reality is that lots of business is done earlier than that. Especially as your career progresses, getting in half an hour earlier can make a day work, so 8:30am (or 9am if the nanny is late…) can push things off to the wrong kind of start.

As I’ve said previously, despite (and sometimes because) of these constraints, parents can be extremely effective, key employees, and if you get their back they will have yours. Said another more logical way, supporting a parent’s impossible-to-juggle schedule isn’t just the humane thing to do (which should be enough!), it’s the right thing to do for your business.

I don’t want to make judgements on the Yelp situation specifically because I’ve only heard one side of the story. I know people who work there and are happy. So I’m simply using Jaymee’s example to highlight a bigger conversation that goes far beyond this incident.

This paragraph below illustrated the opposite of what’s required to help especially a single parent be a productive team member:

“I am the single mother whose manager in month two told me that by using my last half day off we are allotted during training to care for my son who was having breathing problems from bronchitis, that I was putting her in a** tough spot. **I stayed at work.”

‘Families’ are More than just Children

Moreover, “family” isn’t limited to “my children”; it includes other people in your life who need your care and support.

An employee of mine found out her elderly mother was diagnosed with cancer. She has thankfully recovered, but as the child in closest physical proximity to her mother, she was absolutely necessary on deck to help out with the myriad of appointments required by today’s cancer treatments.

And not all of her appointments could be scheduled in advance. A couple times she would call me from the hospital and say that she wouldn’t be able to come in the next day due to an unexpected change of schedule.

When you’re in treatment, you are at the mercy of the medical system’s schedule. They set the dates, and there is very little flexibility. And sometimes they change the dates unexpectedly. It’s just how it works. You don’t have any control.

My employee missed a lot of days in the office for a few months. I had to pick up some key meetings with customers to cover for her. She was incredibly grateful for how supportive we were of her, and to date she’s one of the best hires I’ve made.


I realize that employers are not obligated to offer family-friendly work environments or schedules. There are certain careers whose schedules and requirements run counter to those goals (astronaut, anyone?).

However, the point of all of this is that if you care about having a work environment that supports your employees’ and their families, as I do, then vote with your feet and work somewhere aligned with those values. There are companies with very strong track records in this area that have empathy for families in addition to a strong bottom line.