I’m a Single Parent Who Can’t Find an Overnight Babysitter. Help!

I was wondering if you could provide guidance. I was recently informed, with three weeks notice, that I was required to attend out of town, overnight, mandatory training. After exhausting many resources for availability for childcare, I informed my manager I would not be able to attend this training. I asked what the alternate methods of training or dates were so that I could prepare.

The manager replied that he would let our division manager know, but the training was mandatory.

A day after this, my manager met up with me and in a private session, said to me that the training was mandatory and there was no way around it. It was something I had to do as a part of my job. If the training wasn’t something I could go to, then I needed to start looking outside of (my current position). He followed up by saying that if I had booked a cruise six months in advance and spent 1000 dollars, that would be different.

I took the statement that I need to start looking outside of (my current role) as a threat that I would be fired because I was not able to find childcare for out of town, overnight, mandatory training.

I told my manager that the training was not something that I did not want to go to, but could not go to due to child care and the expectation I would be able to secure overnight care for three days with short notice.

I have since filed a complaint with HR in the sense that I feel like I am not being given the same opportunity to train for or perform my job and that I was threatened with retaliation. I filed a complaint because I felt I was being treated unequally to those who do not have children or are married.

As a single father of two children, can I be expected to attend out of town overnight training? Am I right to file a complaint based on feeling unequal to the opportunity to train for and perform my job? Should I leave it alone and drop the complaint? Should I move forward with legal action?

It’s not technically illegal (federally) to discriminate against someone because he or she has children. (Although pregnancy discrimination is illegal as well as not holding a job after an FMLA protected leave for childbirth, so maybe it could be argued that it’s illegal to discriminate against someone with children. Hmmm. Lawyers?) Anyway, what is illegal is to discriminate on the basis of gender. Generally, this comes up when moms are treated differently than dads because of assumed parental responsibilities.

So, I don’t think you necessarily have a legal case. However, I admit my own biases because I assumed you were female right until the last paragraph. I wonder if single mothers are being required to go as well? Now, I don’t know how big your company is and if there are other single parents floating around, but you do. And if I were you, I’d start sniffing. Politely, though.

If it turns out that mothers (single or married) are being given leeway, then you do have gender discrimination claim. Dropping those words in the HR person’s lap (via an email that is titled: Official complaint of gender discrimination) should induce panic and solve your problem.

It’s curious that your boss says it’s absolutely positively mandatory training, but if you had a cruise they could work something out. This tells me that it’s not absolutely, positively mandatory training. (Although, in fairness, the boss may have just had that pop into his head and would be just as insistent if you did have a cruise.)

That being said, I think this is a winnable situation. Go back to your boss and say, “You said that if I had booked a cruise we could work something out. How could we go about that? Is there an additional training available in the future? With enough advanced notice I can find child care.” If that’s a true statement, that is. Overnight childcare when you don’t live next door to relatives is super hard. And super expensive.

Perhaps you could research on your own if there’s an online or local version of the training you need. (This may or may not be possible–if it’s internal company training it’s not going to be available as a MOOC.) But if it’s something like a computer skill, it’s possible you could find another option.

They key things here are finding and presenting ideas for fixing this. Think of it as being similar to an ADA discussion where you’re asking for a reasonable accommodation. It’s not legally required, but it’s the same concept.

If your boss holds firm and there’s no gender discrimination going on here, then ask directly, “Are you saying that I need to find a new job if I cannot go to this training?” Your boss may get squirmy, because there’s a chance this was an empty threat. But there’s also a chance this is not an empty threat, in which case knowing now is better than getting fired in three weeks when you don’t attend the training.


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7 thoughts on “I’m a Single Parent Who Can’t Find an Overnight Babysitter. Help!

  1. Yeah, the “cruise” comment raises all kinds of questions. What happens if an employee has a disability making it difficult-to-impossible for them to travel to the training? What if an employee get sick and is prevented from participating? Is this employee a non-exempt employee and would that make a difference, since his presence is being required away from home and his family for 24 hours (or more)? Many organizations — for financial and logistic reasons — are conducting more and more meetings through teleconferencing, Skype, FaceTime or whatever. Obviously, you lose some of the “human touch” with those virtual meetings, but if the main focus is the actual training, that could be accomplished through such alternate means.

  2. Was this man aware when he took the job that occasional out of town travel was a requirement? Why is the onus on the company to accommodate the employee’s situation rather than on the employee to fulfill the requirements of the job.

    One thing the company should consider is addressing this issue in their HR manual: that occasional overnight travel is a requirement of some positions and that the company won’t reimburse employees for child, elder and pet care. My company did that after a couple employees sought pet care reimbursement as a travel expense.

    I counsel the employee to decide how much he likes this job. If he wants to keep it, he needs to solve his overnight childcare problem. A couple suggestions:

    1) Does the company have an EAP? If so, call them for referrals. This is the sort of situation their poised to assist you with.

    2) Find other single parents in your workplace or elsewhere and trade overnight childcare with them.

    3) Talk to the parents of your school aged children’s friends: Will they take one of your youngsters in exchange for you taking theirs on a weekend night?

    I know this is an HR blog, but every work situation isn’t legally actionable. In frankness, if I were your boss, I’d be more impressed if you solve this problem than if you threaten to sue the company. And, legally, I’d be surprised if you have a case. I don’t think “unprepared for overnight childcare” is a protected class of activities.

    1. Of course not everything is legally actionable–I said as much. But, this sounds like a random training and not a regular part of his job. If you take a job that is billed as no travel and suddenly you have to travel, it’s a big deal. And it’s not fair to say someone isn’t a good employee because they can’t travel when they didn’t know they’d have to.

  3. I travel periodically for work and generally have to pay a pet sitter, and it never occurred to me to ask for reimbursement. The only thing I do ask my employer is reasonable notice to arrange pet sitting for overnight travel, and more notice around the holidays.

  4. Dorothy!
    Well stated, especially “I’d be more impressed if you solve this problem than if you threaten to sue the company.”

  5. Dorothy and Miller, I think you’re both being a bit harsh. It sounds like he did try solving the problem by “exhausting many resources for availability for childcare…I asked what the alternate methods of training or dates were so that I could prepare.” I’m a childless female, and even I understand someone’s hesitancy in leaving their 2 children with someone, they’re not familiar with. I find it difficult to leave my pets (and no, I don’t request reimbursement). I think EHRL’s advice is good.

  6. Another word of advice: Document interactions as much as possible. Communicate about this difficulty in email rather than in person, if possible. If it’s not possible, take notes during your meeting and have your manager sign and date those notes as an accurate reflection of the conversation. If you do get let go, do NOT sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

    Even if you lack a legal case, these emails and notes can be taken to your local press. Naming and shaming employers for this type of action can be effective in encouraging them to be more flexible. It will also protect you if you chose to warn prospective employees on websites like Yelp or Glassdoor; some corporate lawyer might send you a nasty letter about defamation or libel. If you have documents, you’ll be in a much better position.

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