Parents and caregivers in city may soon request flexible work schedules

San Francisco workers gained the right Tuesday to ask their bosses for a flexible schedule if they have children or are caretakers.

The City thus became the first major U.S. municipality to adopt such a law, which the board approved unanimously Tuesday and which will take effect next January. In August, Vermont became the first state to adopt a law granting employees the right to request a flexible work schedule.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who for the past four months has addressed the concerns of city business leaders, called his legislation part of a broader effort to make San Francisco more family-friendly — as it is famously suffering from family flight.

“I do hope that this is legislation that will nudge real changes in our workplace cultures to eliminate the stigma and bias that surround workers who request flexible working arrangements,” Chiu said.

Demand for such flexible work schedules has increased as the definition of the “traditional” worker has dramatically changed. “Within one generation, we have seen a significant increase in single-parent households, divorces, women entering the workplace,” resulting in a much different workforce than decades ago,” Chiu said.

Workers at companies with 20 or more employees will now have a clear process for requesting flexible schedules if they are parent or caregiver of a spouse or elderly parent. The employer can reject a request in writing for “good faith” business reasons, such as cases in which it would increase the company’s cost of doing business. The City’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement would be charged with enforcing the law.

When Chiu first proposed his legislation, there was a backlash from the business community. But business opposition subsided as Chiu agreed to amend his proposal, such as when he restricted it to businesses with 20 or more employees, not 10 or more employees, as he had originally proposed.

“This is a policy that came to us from other countries — Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand — where the policy was very successful, where employers found that it positively impacted their bottom lines,” Chiu said.

As San Francisco workers gained labor rights, Chiu is hoping to pick up some political points in his run for state Assembly. Shortly after the board approved the legislation, his campaign sent out an email blast with a statement of support from Leah Pimentel, vice chairwoman of the San Francisco Democratic Party, saying Chiu “continues to champion bold policies like this one that improve the lives of parents and children in San Francisco.”

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