My letter concerns the workplace. I am employed at a government social services agency providing advocacy to crime victims. Here's the issue: One of my bosses has adopted four children, all of whom have special needs, as they were wards of the government, removed from their birth mother who kept them in various dangerous and unpleasant environments. He has done a great thing for these kids by providing them with a home, love and attention, and a good life. However, he often brings them to work, which is strictly against protocol.
Because my boss has a disability (he is blind) he is unable to fully monitor these children. They are generally well behaved and adorable, but when he leaves the office for a meeting or whatever, the children go ape-shit. The oldest has a rather unpleasant way of approaching me and loudly proclaiming, "You're fired!" (which doesn't sit well with me coming from my boss's child) and the kids wreak general havoc: hollering, whooping, stomping their feet as they run, feeding cardboard into the shredder, breaking the photocopy machine, demanding highlighters, paper and various office supplies from me, asking for food, etc.
I do not feel comfortable correcting these kids, as I am not their parent and also because one of their fathers is my boss. (These kids have two daddies.) Another co-worker of mine has adopted eight, yes eight, children who have come from similar circumstances and she sometimes will bring her kids in as well. It is decidedly not politically correct to criticize this arrangement, as the children are minorities, some are disabled, and my boss is gay as well as disabled. Since I work in P.C. Hell it is not good form to look askance at the menagerie that has become my workplace. Other co-workers are loath to criticize for fear of backlash, and also because sometimes, when child care is absent, they will bring their kids to work too.
I cannot help feeling some resentment, as the presence of these children interferes with my ability to do my job, and as a single mother for many years I PAID for daycare that I couldn't afford because I had no choice anyway.
We have been informed that in a few days upper management (who never come around) will be meeting with staff to address complaints brought by some other staff members who have filed EEOC complaints for other, unrelated problems. Basically, the going is good for dirty laundry to get aired out. This would be my opportunity to spill the beans. By doing so, though, I run the risk of alienating some of my co-workers who bring their own kids in (but on a very minimal basis), and I am sure that if the boss can't bring his then ... well, you know. What would you do?
Kids Running the Office
Dear Kids Running the Office,
I am not an expert on workplace law or mediation or anything like that. But it seems to me what you need to know first is what the actual policy is and whether it's being violated. I gather there is a written policy on kids in the workplace that governs your situation. What exactly does the policy say? Is it being followed? Is it being violated? Or does that question depend on subjective interpretations? If your boss is violating the workplace policy, what are the formal steps involved in having that violation addressed?
I would think that if you carefully gather the relevant facts and think them through, you will be able to decide for yourself what the right thing to do is. If you cannot decide for yourself, then consult an attorney experienced in workplace disputes and have the possible outcomes spelled out for you in greater detail. With the help of an attorney, you could find out about the history of the enforcement of such workplace regulations in agencies like yours, what the effects of such disputes have been in the past, and thereby get a picture of what is likely to happen if you should take action.
Your goal in all of this is to determine what is the right thing to do. Is it right to enforce policy to the letter, regardless of its effect on you and others, or does the policy exist only as a general guideline whose practical application is to be determined informally by the group? The right thing to do is not necessarily to follow the policy, nor is the right thing necessarily to do what is politically correct, or what is expedient. The right thing to do is not easy to determine. It involves judgments about the ideal society.
For instance, in thinking through the effect of a particular action, you might realize that you believe that what is right is for disadvantaged minority children to be cared for at all costs. If taking action against your boss might make life tougher for his kids, you might determine that it's not right to take action against him, regardless of what the policy says and regardless of how difficult it makes it for the rest of you. It might be that what is right is for the government to provide child care to disadvantaged children, and as part of the government, you might decide that you ought to be caring for the kids, no matter how it affects your other work. It might be that what is right is for people collectively to assume responsibility for all children. On the other hand, it might be that what is right is for the boss to assure that his employees have an orderly work environment. It might be that several right things are in conflict.
It may be that the right thing to do is too much trouble. It may be that doing the right thing would harm people and cause disruption. Doing the right thing might get you fired. It might be that doing the right thing entails a gamble, some tempting of fate, some unknown unpleasantness that you are not willing to accept.
Since it's a government job, and we style ourselves to be self-governing, I will only add that your choice in this matter represents the very essence of self-government: To weigh the effects of your personal choices in daily life -- to weigh them heavily, as though the fate of the nation depended upon it, because, in a sense, it does. Once you determine the possible effects of your actions, and examine the risks and likelihood of each occurring, it's up to you to decide what to do.
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