do I have to fire someone due to his lack of child care? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is unable to obtain childcare when he is on call, which is an essential part of his job, and the job is not safe to take a child to. Therefore, we may not be able to keep him on.

I supervise a team of maintenance technicians who rotate being on call 24/7 for one week every month. Being on call for emergencies is an essential part of the job, as they respond to calls such as water leaks that could cause property destruction, air conditioning calls (this is a 24/7 facility and the upper floors can get above 90 or higher degrees in the summer), lock-outs, and other urgent calls that can’t wait until business hours. We have a small team of four, so it’s essential that everyone take part in the rotation so no one is on call 24/7 too often.

We make it clear to everyone before hiring them that on-call shifts are a requirement.

It has recently come to light that one team member is unable to find childcare for late night emergency calls and has been taking his child with him. For very obvious reasons this is not OK, but the child is too young to leave at home. (We didn’t know this was happening until his ex-wife found out, got a court order that prevented him from both taking the kid with him and leaving him home alone, and also alerted us.) However, it’s not exactly easy to find a babysitter at 3 am when you have to rush into work immediately. His family is not always available, and it’s not like there are daycares open.

It’s not fair to the rest of the team to leave him off of the emergency rotation, which is an essential part of the job, but it seems cruel to let someone go for not being able to find childcare.

I am proposing we give him two months off of the rotation to figure something out. After that, I’ll have to have that difficult conversation with him.

Is there an alternative that I’m missing here? We are waiting on advice from HR, but I know they’re going to tell me that he can’t remain in his position if he can’t meet the schedule requirements.

This really sucks for everyone involved.

You did the right thing when you ensured he knew about on-call requirement before you hired him, and you’re right not to want to shift an extra burden to his team mates.

On his end, he’s undoubtedly not taking his child along for the fun of it. Finding last-minute child care in the middle of the night when you live alone would be impossible for most people. Bringing the kid with him isn’t the right solution, but it’s easy to see how someone desperate could have landed there.

Would you be open to attaching an incentive to the on-call shifts to make other employees more interested in volunteering for more of them? For example, if each on-call week came with a bonus or, say, extra days off, you might be able to fully staff them without this employee, and without making the rest of your team resentful if he’s not doing them. You don’t have to do that — again, this was a requirement of the job that he agreed to up-front — but if you’re looking for a way to make this work, it’s something to consider.

Otherwise, giving him two months to figure something out is reasonable. That also gives him time to job search if he thinks he’ll need to. If he’s not able to make it work by the end of that period, you wouldn’t necessarily need to fire him; you could mutually part ways on good terms. And while you wouldn’t be obligated to offer severance, you might choose to in recognition of the difficult circumstances.

(Also, this probably isn’t your place to suggest, but if he wants to stay in the job, could he have his kid stay with his ex-wife on the weeks he’s on call? There may be reasons that’s not a good idea, but otherwise it might be something he could consider.)

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