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Latest Low-Cost Perk: Helping employees land child care

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in Employee Benefits Program,Employment Background Check,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

With so much absenteeism linked to child care issues, more U.S. employers are offering employees access to new Web sites that help solve a common dilemma: finding a good, reliable babysitter.

The sites, such as Babysitters.com and 4Sitters.com, offer a large regional or national database listing current and qualified babysitters and nannies grouped by ZIP code or neighborhood. Parents match their needs to detailed sitter profiles.

Best of all: This is a low-cost perk for employers. Most employers simply organize discounts and make the information available as a resource with no strings attached.

How the sites work: Marketed initially to parents, the sites now offer corporate programs to employers, including reduced-rate memberships for their employees.

Example: A Charlotte, N.C., hospital signed up with Sittercity.com (which includes 150,000 sitters and 15,000 parents in its network) to provide discounted access to its employees. Membership regularly costs $40 a month for the first month and $10 a month thereafter.

The sites operate like a Web-dating service: They don't legally vouch for (or screen) their sitters. Sittercity, for instance, requires a reference from each sitter, and it allows the posting of eBay-style feedback about sitters. But it doesn't conduct criminal background checks. Instead, it partners with organizations that parents can contract with separately to do background checks for a fee.

That fact—and the fear that predators may lurk among these parent/child care networks—makes some people nervous. But most of these sites build in safeguards, such as verifying parents' identities, requiring profile updates every three months and notifying the parents of younger-age sitters.

Advice: If you choose to distribute information or discounted memberships as an employee benefit, state the services' policies. Encourage parents to do their homework when choosing sitters. Also, include a disclaimer in your materials that says your company isn't endorsing the sites or accepting responsibility for their performance.

Remember, you don't have to formally sponsor the benefit. For example, the University of Chicago's HR department simply includes updated information about the babysitting services, costs and screening tips as a part of a Parent Resource Directory that it makes available to employees.

The upshot: Employees say they welcome the information and use it to enhance their own sitter search. 

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