Sununu signs order inviting parents to bring infants to work

Gov. Chris Sununu announces a new program to allow state employees who are parents of young infants to bring them to work. Children from six weeks to six months of age would be eligible. Pictured here with Sununu from left are Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart, Labor Commissioner Ken Merrifield and Acting Health and Human Services Commissioner Kerrin Rounds.

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu cleared the way Monday for state workers to bring their babies to work with them.

The governor said 20 state departments had already agreed to sign on to the program, which would be available to the parent, foster parent or legal guardian of a child from six weeks to six months old.

“This will help state government stay competitive in such a great economy,” Sununu told reporters at the announcement of the executive order.

Department heads would retain control over which workers would qualify for the program.

Sununu said infant children would not be permitted to ride in state cars or be allowed to be in “secure settings” such as the state prison or mental hospital.

Under the program’s guidance, children who become “habitually disruptive,” “uncontrollable” or sick will not be permitted to remain enrolled.

Complaints about any infant must be made in writing to the agency’s human resources officer.

“The supervisor will always have the ability to manage the workplace,” Sununu said.

The parent must also have on file an alternative day care option for the child.

Any parent denied the option can appeal the decision to the department head, who has the final say.

Sununu said he did not know how many employees would participate; he acknowledged the number is not likely to be many at the start.

“It’s not that many, but part of why we are doing this (publicizing it) is the hope that it is more,” Sununu said.

The two-term Republican governor and the Democratically-led Legislature have been at odds over legislation to create a paid family leave program.

Sununu vetoed a bill to mandate paid family and medical leave financed by raising the payroll tax that employers and employees would pay. Sununu called it an “income tax.”

Instead, the governor has proposed a voluntary family leave program for state workers and for any companies that take part in the program. Sununu got rid of the medical leave portion of his plan, noting that most employers offer short-term disability insurance for their workers.

The Legislature is expected to act on the two competing plans during the 2020 session.

Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart said as the mother of three young children, she can identify with the initiative.

“This will help relieve a lot of that stress that goes with being a new parent,” Stewart said

Labor Commissioner Ken Merrifield said the concept becomes even more critical as agencies across state government face a mass exodus of older workers.

Merrifield said a third of those working in his department will be at the point of retirement during the current two-year state budget cycle, which ends June 30, 2021.

“Thanks to the governor’s boldness and leadership, this should really do some good,” Merrifield said.

Sununu said he patterned the program after states that have adopted it — Washington in 2015, Arizona in 2017 and the state of Vermont last January.

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Wednesday, January 15, 2020