May 27, 2015
By Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney
American workers are juggling the demands of caring for children, aging parents, disabled family members and other challenges, all while working longer hours and getting less time off than workers in other countries. Hardworking Americans often find themselves forced to choose between the needs of their families and the demands of their jobs. Our laws have not kept pace with these demands, even as the number of households headed by single parents or with both parents working outside the home has increased.
We need new legislation to meet the demands of 21st century families by expanding access to flexible schedules. Balanced work-family policies are a win-win–they help create stable families, a productive workforce, and positive economic outcomes.
On March 18, 2015, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and I introduced new legislation, The Flexibility for Working Families Act, which would guarantee the right to request a flexible work arrangement without fear of retribution. Workers could request temporary or permanent changes to:
- The number of hours they are required to work
- The times of day when the employee is required to work or be on notice
- Where the employee is required to work
- Notifications of schedule assignments
The bill allows an employer to review these requests, propose changes, and even deny them if they are not considered in the best interest of their business. But at least a person can ask without worrying it will cost them their job.
Current work schedules are based on an outdated notion that families have two parents, with a stay-at-home wife. Our nation’s workforce has undergone a significant demographic shift over the last 50 years, with a massive influx of women into the workforce and a growing number of single parent families.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 1960 women comprised just one-third of employed persons, whereas in 2010 women constituted nearly half of the American workforce.
Meanwhile, the number of households with a stay-at-home parent has plummeted. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of married households with children where both parents were in the labor force rose to 66 percent in 2010. The number of single parent families has also increased, almost tripling over the last fifty years, from 5 percent in 1960, to 14 percent in 2010.
Furthermore, more workers are caring for older relatives or individuals with special needs. The National Alliance for Caregiving found that more than half of those who provide unpaid care to an adult or to a child with special needs also work outside the home.
In a 2014 report on workplace flexibility, the White House Council of Economic Advisers notes that U.S. companies that have instituted flexible work arrangements found that these arrangements improve employee satisfaction, morale, health, and well-being. They also increase employee retention and reduce turnover, overtime and absenteeism, and increase productivity.
Many companies have responded to the challenges of the modern workforce by voluntarily instituting flexible work arrangements that allow workers to choose the time, amount, or place that work is conducted, but far too many traditionalists fear these flexible arrangements.
Similar “right to request” laws have successfully increased productivity, attendance and overall job satisfaction in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
The American workforce is the hardest-working and most efficient in the world, but our workplaces are falling behind the rest of the world and failing our families. More flexibility would help hardworking Americans and their families.