Legislating Workplace Flexibility | DCR Workforce Blog

Legislating Workplace Flexibility

complianceMany people believe that the workplace is changing irrevocably and flexible work schedules are here to stay.  Knowledge workers can work from anywhere – on files stored and shared on the cloud – without feeling threatened for seeking such flexibility in work location and work hours.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a flexible work schedule as “an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour work week. It allows employees to vary their arrival and/or departure times. Under some policies, employees must work a prescribed number of hours a pay period and be present during a daily “core time.” The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address flexible work schedules. Alternative work arrangements such as flexible work schedules are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee’s representative).”  But, studies show that employers do not universally apply their avowed leave, work reduction and flexible off-site work policies to all their employees. Highly skilled workers always fare better than workers who are low-skilled. Unfortunately, family concerns and exigencies make no such distinctions!

Some facts driving the increased desire for flexible work schedules:

  • 2 out of 3 workers over the age of 45 years have caregiver responsibilities for an aged family member.
  • 40% of private sector workers have no paid sick leave.
  • 4 in 10 American kids live in a household where their mother is the primary breadwinner – a number which dramatically increased from 11% in 1960.

Flexible work structures are linked by studies to lowered levels of absenteeism, lower employee turnover and – what is more – a higher level of productivity from the employees! They also discourage ‘presenteeism’ and its unsavory effects.  That’s why many countries have given employees the legal right to request flexible workplace arrangements without fear of retaliation that could affect their long-term career prospects.  In the USA, ground-breaking legislation, in states like California and Vermont, protects the rights of workers to request more flexibility at work. Of course, not everyone can work at their jobs remotely, but for those who can; employers will be required to provide the necessary approvals.  However, even for those who do qualify, there are many who feel that this new legislation lacks teeth. Vermont’s law asks employers to grant such requests for flexibility, while ensuring that the request is consistent with business operations, does not burden the employer with high additional costs, lost productivity or quality, work allocation needs and enforce structural changes on the business.  These caveats make it possible for any employer to evade the whole issue of creating a flexible workplace.

Interestingly, the growing availability and use of temporary workers by more and more companies will create a very positive impact at various levels in supporting this flexible approach:

  1. Persons with care-giving responsibilities and other claims on their time are able to embrace flexible or temporary work – without fearing the so-called stigma of being unwilling to take up full time work.
  2. In nearly all studies into the motivation for pursuing a career as a contract worker or freelancer, individuals equally cite desire for better work-life balance and difficulty in finding an attractive  permanent position
  3. Companies increasingly are indicating that the increased use of temporary workers increases their productivity, allowing them to provide additional production shifts or extended customer service hours.  Temporary workers are also used to provide skills that are required for a limited period of time or single project.
  4. Many companies report a greater level of comfort in providing flexible work schedules for temp workers than for permanent employees.  However, they also acknowledge that success in flexible scheduling of contractors has led to increased willingness to agree to flexible schedules for perm workers.
  5. While it is assumed that the largest proportion if workers seeking a flexible work schedule would be women, in fact a fairly even number of males and females are pursuing this option.
  6. In industries suffering from an aging workforce, companies are using the potential for flexible scheduling to encourage the return of retirees as contract workers.  In these mutually beneficial relationships, companies gain the required skills and knowledge while workers have the increased free time needed to “ease” into retirement.

Increased workplace flexibility could have a positive impact on the GDP of the country itself, as more people opt for it creating increased opportunities for temporary work and sending its growth soaring further. As employers struggle to attract the talent they require by being recognized as employers of choice, they need to accommodate the changing needs of their workforces and adapt to the present conditions, even if it means making changes to the traditional workforce mix. Do you or your employer believe in flexible scheduling? If so, do write in and tell us how you go about achieving it.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.