10/31/2013 11:30 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2013

New Law Will Help San Francisco Workers Balance Jobs And Family

In the vast majority of today's families, there is no one at home to provide care for those who need it. Workers caring for children, elderly parents or ill family members struggle with caregiving obligations and often feel they have to choose between their jobs and their loved ones.

The Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, authored by President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors David Chiu, and signed on October 9th by Mayor Ed Lee, encourages employers to work with their employees to create flexible work arrangements so they can meet family caregiving obligations. The Ordinance grants workers the right to request flexibility without fear of retaliation. Employers can deny requests, but only for bona fide business reasons that they explain in writing.

"Donna," a single mom from the Tenderloin, recently called our Work and Family helpline because she lost her maintenance job at a local gym after she asked if her shift could start a few hours earlier one day to accommodate her daughter's child care (options were limited because of her daughter's medical condition). Her employer flatly refused and told her he did not have to consider her request.

"Right to Request" legislation, like San Francisco's Ordinance, has been overwhelmingly successful in other jurisdictions -- one million employees in the United Kingdom made requests during the law's first year, and nearly all of those requests were granted voluntarily. The right to request creates a safe space for employers and employees to discuss their needs and come up with creative solutions that work for everyone. At the very least, the right to request begins a conversation about how caregiving needs might be accommodated, a step that can benefit all workers as employers may begin to adopt more flexible policies.

Businesses also benefit from flexibility, as it can increase productivity and morale while reducing turnover and absenteeism. The Urban Institute and Georgetown Law School report that employees with flexible schedules tend to be happier and more committed to their employers, which leads to higher quality work product.

Increasing acceptance of flexibility in the workplace may help erode gender stereotypes. Caregiving responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women, and employees who seek flexibility can be seen as less committed to their jobs -- a perception that can limit advancement opportunities for female workers. However, men also increasingly value opportunities that provide flexibility. According to a 2011 study by the Sloan Center, 95% of working fathers agreed that workplace flexibility would impact their decision when considering a new job.

More and more workers find themselves not only caring for children, but also for aging parents. Over 30% of American households reported having an unpaid caregiver in 2009 -- most of whom reported caring for an adult. Over 70% of those caregivers were also employed.

Providing workplace flexibility is the right policy for families, businesses and for our community. San Francisco takes an important step in the right direction with this groundbreaking new law.