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Monday, May 22, 2006

PTOs for SAHDs and MOMs. Human Resource Executive magazine (registration required) has had several articles recently that represent good news for dads and moms hoping to work from home. The May 2 issue reported on a new concept that is gaining popularity with companies, PTOs or paid-time-off banks. The article reports that in PTOs, the distinction between sick days and vacation is eliminated giving the employee more flexibility.
These plans have existed for many years, but have become more popular recently. Last year, 37 percent of respondents to Mercer's annual survey of employers' time-off and disability programs provided a PTO plan that combines, at a minimum, vacation with incidental absence/sick days, compared to just 29 percent in 2003. Employers are turning to PTO plans for several reasons. With fewer absence categories, PTO plans make absence reporting simpler for both employees and supervisors. They control the number of total payable days for incidental absences or sick days (including paid FMLA absences that don't otherwise qualify for disability benefits) and they encourage employees to self-manage use of time off and take that time on a scheduled basis when possible.
As we have noted earlier, many workers have been reluctant to take advantage of family leave. Perhaps a PTO bank, with its simpler administration, will encourage dads and moms to take time off more frequently. A separate article in the May 16 issue reports on the rise in the number of employees who work from home. The article cites JetBlue Airways, based in Salt Lake City, where 1,100 employees work from home. An executive with JetBlue described the program:
"We get a lot of housewives, a lot of secondary-income people, a lot of retirees or near-retirees -- 55 to 65 years old," he says, adding that these positions are only offered to employees in Salt Lake City where the company's headquarters and support center are located. "We had several hundred [agents] when we first started. But we have 82 aircraft now and handle 35,000 calls a day." New hires complete a one-and-a-half-day orientation and a four-week training program at the support center that covers the airline's technology systems, culture and operations. During the last week, they field calls at the support center while monitored by supervisors walking the floor. Ward says they can train in the center for up to two additional weeks -- without supervision -- before working from home. The company provides each agent with a computer, phone and e-mail address. Agents must furnish their own desks and chairs and pay $25 each month for an additional phone line. In the early days, says Ward, the company's tech team would perform home inspections, ensuring agents would be working in quiet environments, and would then set up the computer and update the hardware as needed. But the company's rapid growth prohibited that from continuing, he says. Now, employees bring along their hard drives for the initial set-up, repairs or updates when they come into the corporate office for quarterly team meetings. By the time the meeting has ended, the company's tech department has finished working on their computers. The supervisor-to-employee ratio is 32-to-one, he says, adding that supervisors are equipped with detailed reports that include everything from how many calls agents handle during their shift to how long they take for lunch. They monitor and review four calls each month per agent.
This is good news for parents with school-age children. When a mom or dad is working from home, they may not be able to directly supervise their kids when they come home from school, but their presence provides safety and reassurance. Having a mom or dad typing away in the basement is much better than coming home to an empty house.

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