Legislature approves pilot program to allow infants at work

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would set up the Infant at Work Pilot Program for eligible employees of the Department of Health passed in the final minutes of the 2020 Utah Legislature.

HB264 would allow Department of Health employees to bring their newborn to work with them from the first six weeks up until six months, or until the child becomes mobile. The statute will create the framework for the program, but the Department of Health will address employee eligibility and what a safe work space entails.

Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, the bill’s sponsor, said, “Eight other states have done this, and their programs all started out as pilot programs. Many of these states have since expanded the pilot program due to overwhelming success.”

Dr. Marc Babitz, family physician and deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, supported the bill. “One of the big key issues for parenting and children development is bonding,” Babitz said. When babies are separated at a young age and put in childcare for several hours a day, it reduces the opportunity for parental bonding.

Babitz said part of the bonding process is for the mother to be able to feed her own child. “We prefer having the baby in close proximity to the mother for breastfeeding,” Babitz said. “Mothers can pump and save their milk, but that’s not the easiest thing to do at a workplace.”

From the job point of view, Babitz said the Infant at Work Pilot Program is a good recruitment and retention incentive. By implementing the program, employers show that they respect and honor the rights of mothers to be close to their small infant.

“If this bill is passed, then our teleworking employees will also be able to have their infants at home with them,” Babitz said. Teleworking is done from the employee’s home, and typically a mother has to take her baby to childcare to avoid interference with the workday. There are performance measures to determine what an employee should be doing to avoid wasted time. HB264 would apply to these mothers as well.

“We’re pretty excited about it. It’s a win-win for the baby, the mom and the employer,” Babitz said.

Pitcher said starting this initiative as a pilot program is ideal, since this is a relatively new concept. “I like the idea of starting out on a smaller scale, and if it goes well we can expand it beyond that,” Pitcher said. The bill is meant to provide consistency and statute that can be applied to various departments if the program is successful and others would like to replicate it.

“I’m in support of running a pilot program versus rolling this out to all departments because we need to be able to set up our own administrative process and rules,” Paul Carver, executive director of the Department of Human Resource Management, said. “I’d rather get that right with one department than try to do it at one time for all departments.”

Arizona started its program in 2000. That state released a report in 2018 and found that overall productivity in the workplace went up and parents who were participating in the program felt an additional need to get their work done and be productive. In addition, there was an increased sense of loyalty to the employer. 

Akela Bellazetin, policy director for the Utah Women’s Coalition, said, “Arizona had a fair amount of years, participants, babies who have graduated from the program. In my research, there wasn’t any litigation or issues with babies being hurt in the workplace.” Bellazetin supported the bill, saying HB264 would be an excellent program to have in Utah because it benefits parents, employees and companies.

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