San Francisco Gives Workers Ability To Request Flexible Schedules

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San Francisco’s board of supervisors recently passed the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, a measure that gives employees the right to ask for a flexible schedule.

The so-called “right-to-request” law would require all employers to set up a process that allows workers to negotiate adjustments in work hours, such as changing the starting time, going part-time, or tele-commuting. Employers wouldn’t be mandated to provide these schedule changes and don’t have to approve them if they cause “undue hardship,” but need to have a compelling business case to deny the requests, such as a cost increase or detrimental effect on meeting business demands. It goes into effect January 1.

San Francisco is the first American city to pass such a law, but Vermont put one in place statewide in May as part of its Commission on Women.

Other countries have implemented similar laws that are experiencing a lot of success. In the United Kingdom, a right-to-request policy went into effect in 2002 and has increased the number of workers with flexible schedules — only 10 percent of the requests have been turned down, even though employers have discretion to deny them. Meanwhile, 70 percent of employers in one survey said the flexibility has helped them recruit better workers and keep employees engaged and motivated. Less than 5 percent said they had trouble complying with the law. New Zealand and Australia also have similar policies.

With nearly half of all families with children headed by two working parents and another quarter headed by a single parent, flexible scheduling can help workers comply with both the demands of work and of home. The benefit may also be particularly important for women, who tend to be the default caretakers. One survey found that far more women in workplaces with flexible scheduling had ambitions for senior or CEO-level jobs than in places without those options.