Flexibility in scheduling and other alternative work arrangements are crucial tools that enable working families to reconcile work and family responsibilities. Many industrialized countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, have enacted laws that guarantee employees the right to ask for flexible work schedules, without fear of retaliation. These laws also require that employers seriously consider a request for flexible working arrangements, and provide a business justification for any request that is denied.
The Working Families Flexibility Act, first introduced in Congress by Representative Carolyn Maloney and the late Senator Edward Kennedy in 2007, would have guaranteed American workers the same ability to ask for work options without fear of retaliation. Although she keeps trying to pass the legislation into law, the Congresswoman’s vision has yet to take hold.
While Congress has yet to act, developments at the state and local level suggest that the tide may be turning in the direction of workplace flexibility.
In June, Vermont passed legislation that gives employees the right to request a “flexible work arrangement” for any reason and requires the employer to consider such a request at least twice each calendar year. The law, which will go into effect on January 1, 2014, defines a “flexible work arrangement” as “intermediate or long-term changes in the employee’s regular working arrangements, including changes in the number of days or hours worked, changes in the time the employee arrives at or departs from work, work from home, or job sharing.” Once an employee submits a request, the employer must discuss it in good faith and grant the request if it is not inconsistent with business operations.
This month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the “Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance,” which allows employees to submit a request for an alternative work schedule to better fit their care-giving needs. The ordinance, which is likely to be approved by the mayor, requires that employers meet with employees to discuss requests for flexible work arrangements, and to either grant the request or provide a bona fide business reason for rejecting a request.
While neither the Vermont law nor the San Francisco ordinance require businesses to grant an employee’s request for a flexible work arrangement, the mere fact that employers are required to consider the requests is a move in the right direction.
Congresswoman Maloney’s Working Families Flexibility Act – version 2013 – is again languishing in committee. But as worker flexibility laws continue to gain a foothold on American soil, enabling businesses and workers to experience the anticipated benefits in productivity and morale, there is renewed hope for its eventual success.