Utah’s health department might launch an ‘infant at work’ program

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this Feb. 22, 2019, file photo, State Democratic Rep. Stephanie Pitcher speaks on the House floor at the Utah state Capitol, in Salt Lake City.

New parents employed by the Utah Department of Health might soon have the ability to bring their infants to work under a proposed pilot program.

Letting babies 6 weeks to 6 months tag along with their parents would increase the opportunity for bonding, make it easier for mothers to breastfeed and create a strong recruitment tool for the agency, Marc Babitz, deputy health director, told state lawmakers Monday.

“To have a place of employment where we respect and honor the rights of mothers to be close to their small infants for a period of time, we think is a great recruitment thing and also retention thing,” Babitz testified.

Rep. Stephanie Pitcher sees the program as an innovative way to address what she calls a “child care crisis” in the state and hopes it eventually expands across state government and even into the private sector.

“Anything we can do at the state level to position the state as a more competitive employer is also going to push the needle on the private sector,” said Pitcher, whose bill would establish the pilot program at the health department.

Pitcher’s proposal, HB264, won unanimous support Monday from the House Business and Labor Committee, with Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, wondering why lawmakers should limit the program to the health department rather than taking it statewide. Pitcher said she’d advocate for starting small so officials can work out the bugs in the program before extending it to the rest of state government but said that is the ultimate goal.

Eight other states — including Arizona, Nevada and Washington — have experimented with allowing parents to bring their infants to work, and many of them have expanded their pilot programs because of their “overwhelming success,” Pitcher said. The representative said in an interview that she chose the health department for the pilot because the agency seemed enthusiastic about the idea.

During the bill hearing, Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, asked whether bringing infants into the workplace would create any liabilities for the state; a Utah Division of Risk Management representative testified that state agencies might be taking on some increased risk but he couldn’t quantify it and said he was “not terribly concerned” over the proposal.

And Babitz said the program would dovetail well with the state’s ongoing teleworking push. Currently, he said, these employees have to find child care during their workdays even if they’ll be doing their jobs from home.

The mother would have to leave her home, take the baby to child care, come back home to work and go back and pick up the child afterwards," he said.

Pitcher’s bill will now go before the full Utah House for consideration.