San Francisco “Flexible Workplace” Measure May be Tip of the Iceberg of Increasing Local Employment Regulation

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October 2013, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the “Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance,” which if signed by the mayor will expand protections for workers with family care-giving duties and require employers to take requests for flexible work arrangements seriously. The measure creates a new, “only in San Francisco” protected category of workers that employers will likely have to keep in mind when making workplace decisions, as Mayor Ed Lee has indicated his intention to sign the measure into law.  

Family Friendly Workplace will apply to any San Francisco employer with 20 or more employees, and has two components. It would enable an employee who has worked for the company for at least six months and works at least eight hours per week to request “workplace flexibility” and “workplace predictability” in order to assist with care-taking duties for children, parents over 65, or family members such as siblings, spouses/domestic partners, grandchildren, or grandparents in need of care. Flexibility accommodations may include adjusted start and end times, telecommuting, job-sharing, part-time work and similar arrangements, while “workplace predictability” refers to providing employees with adequate advance notice of schedules.

When flexibility requests are denied, employees have the right to complain to the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which has authority to investigate. The investigation must be limited to a review of whether the employer made procedural errors, however and does not allow second-guessing of the employer’s justification for denying the request. The measure prohibits retaliation and discrimination against employees who request a flexible work arrangement, with the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement once again assigned to investigate allegations. Refusing to comply with the measure could lead to fines of up to $50 per employee each day of violation. Further, San Francisco (through the city attorney) will be able to take civil action against a violating employer.

Increasing municipal regulation of the workplace (no matter how well-meaning) threatens to create a growing patchwork of idiosyncratic local requirements that place new burdens and risks on employers. If San Francisco (with its trend of unique minimum wage, health-care and now care-giving ordinances) is the tip of the iceberg on this issue, large businesses operating in multiple jurisdictions may well start to feel like they are aboard the Titanic.

Click here for the legislative fact sheet about the ordinance.