Should Employers Cover Childcare Expenses When Parents Travel for Work?

When employees travel for work, they can expense their airfare and hotel accommodations. Generally, however, they can’t expense childcare … even though that cost is necessary for them to go the extra mile for their employers. In her recent piece for Fortune, Dawn Bovasso argues that this is unfair: “If I incur an expense because I am doing something above and beyond for my company, shouldn’t my company pay for that expense?”

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Bovasso is a single mother who also happens to be one of the very few female creative directors in the advertising industry—a “unicorn,” as she refers to herself. She doesn’t have a spouse at home to watch her son if she needs (or wants) to attend work events after-hours. So, when Bovasso was asked to attend an after-work appreciation dinner her employer was throwing on a weeknight, she was faced with the dilemma of whether it was even worth the $200 childcare tab she’d have to afford out of pocket.

Fighting the Good Fight

Long story short, Bovasso ended up going to the dinner and paying for a sitter—only to discover that her employer was fronting the bill for some of her (male) colleagues to stay at a hotel near the restaurant so they wouldn’t have to choose between drinking at the event and getting home safely. Bovasso wasn’t too happy about the situation, so she took it up with the department head that very night. Although she eventually ended up getting her babysitting tab covered for the evening, it wasn’t without a fight.

How is it that her employer was willing to cover the bill for hotel rooms for people who chose to drink too much that night, but she’d have to pay a sitter $200 to even make the event?

The World We Live In

The sad reality is that, even in today’s world, meals and transportation are an employer’s responsibility when an employee is required to travel for work—childcare, on the other hand, is not. Even when a single parent incurs childcare costs in order to go on a work trip, this is not considered a reimbursable because it’s not tax-deductible in the eyes of the IRS. Why, you say? Because, as Bovasso reminds us, “it’s a woman’s problem.”

Outdated Ideals in Modern Times

Why it is, though, that our notion of reimbursable expenses (and the IRS codes from which they come) is based on the old-fashioned family unit—with a breadwinning dad and stay-at-home mom? Back in the day, it was assumed that when the husband traveled for business, the wife stayed home to care for the kids and manage the household. There wasn’t a need to implement policies to cover household costs, including childcare, at the time. In Bovasso’s words, “You can get $30 for takeout if you work late (because your wife isn’t there to cook you dinner) or $30 for scotch if you want to drink your face off, but you can’t get $30 for a sitter (because your wife is at home with the kids).”

I’m sure we can all agree that, although the traditional family unit hasn’t phased out entirely, it’s definitely not as common as it was in generations passed. Nowadays, dual-income households seem to be the norm, especially when you consider the fact that women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce. Despite the evolution of the household, however, working women (moms, especially) end up getting the raw end of the deal, because of gender biases in a workplace that often seems to be stuck in the past. Not only are women still trying to break through and abolish “the glass ceiling,” but they’re also tackling the hardships of the gender pay gap and unconscious bias. When is enough, enough?

Keep Hope Alive

Hopefully, the workplace will evolve to become not only more female-friendly, but family-friendly, too. Of course, childcare responsibilities aren’t exclusive to women only, but women are typically the ones who bear most of the load when it comes to household and childcare duties, even when they hold full-time careers. Therefore, it’d be nice to see some sort of compromise with childcare in and out of the workplace so that women don’t have to choose between growing their careers and meeting expenses.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think employers should reimburse childcare costs as they do other travel expenses? Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter, or leave your comment below.