Should Your Job Cover Babysitting If You Have To Work Late?

The traditional notion of “expenses” is geared towards men

Joy

Back when I was an assistant at a talent agency, I had to deal with my boss’s expense reports. It was a bit like doing his laundry and one of the many tasks — such as arriving before him to turn on his lights and his computer and fetch him coffee so that all would be ready for him when he arrived — that made me feel like I had been given to this much older man as a young wife in an arranged marriage. My job was to keep him comfortable, to make his life easy, and, when necessary, to fudge a little on those expense reports.

My friend and fellow assistant Trish had it worse than I did: if I felt like I was doing laundry for my boss, she felt like she had to launder money on behalf of hers. The man she worked for barely made an effort to pretend that the numerous receipts he gave her to organize and bill to the company, from venues as varied as the Hilton and Hooters, were work-related. But justifying his expenditures so that he would be reimbursed for them was her job and, for twenty-something thousand dollars a year, she did it well.

In a much-read piece, Dawn Bovasso has prompted many of us to reconsider our expectations about expense reports and reflect on whether they are biased in favor of men — specifically, men who have wives at home.

Bovasso begins by recounting an occasion when her office decided to fete its employees after office hours. A single mother, Bovasso was less than thrilled by the extra arrangements that attending the event would require on her part: “this appreciation dinner was going to end up costing me about $200.”

The real issue is not a one-off appreciation dinner or annual holiday party, though, but instead the way travel, client meetings, and other off-the-clock, out-of-the-office parts of the job are structured under the assumption that every employee has someone who is willing and able to keep the home fires burning. Babysitting isn’t generally understood as a billable expenses because bosses assume it will be taken care of by their employees’ wives.

non-household expenses such as hotel stays, meals, transportation, and even laundry are reimbursable; expenses for maintaining your home while you are traveling or working (e.g. babysitting, cat sitting) are not. …
Most of these policies were created when men were traveling, and women were home taking care of the kids. When the male leaders of this world travel, there is an embedded assumption that they have women at home maintaining the hearth, cooking their meals, taking care of their children, feeding their dogs, watering their plants. They do not need to pay for these services, because it is built in as part of the traditional family unit. They don’t need to pay for babysitting, though they do need drinks and they definitely cannot do their own laundry. 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).

Some commenters take issue with the fact that Bovasso frames this as a women’s issue when it could be easily seen as a single-parent’s issue. And it’s true that the unclassifiable nature of the modern family should complicate any comfortable corporate assumptions about any employee’s home life. The need to fundamentally re-examine how businesses handle expense reports does strike me as a women’s issue, though, for several reasons:

  1. Because the vast majority of single parents are women.
  2. Because the care of children and the home is still overwhelmingly seen as the purview, and burden, of female employees.
  3. Because it involves up-ending a status quo and asking for recognition — you know, money — for something that society had previously been assumed could and would be done for free. And there’s nothing more feminist than that.