This week’s question comes from Candice in San Leandro, who asks:
Q: I am a new mom and plan to return to work at a marketing firm in San Francisco next month. Fortunately, my mother-in-law will be able to take care of my baby most of the time, but she has to leave at 4:30 p.m. to go to work, so I will need to have a flexible schedule in order to be home by then. Do I have any right to request this kind of accommodation? Is there anything I should know about how to make the request? Thanks for your help.
A: Hi Candace, Congratulations on your new baby. There are many complicated decisions you have to make during this time of transition and I hope I am able to provide you some ease on this one.
We are fortunate in that San Francisco, which has always been on the cutting edge of employment mandates, is the first American city to pass a “right to request” law in giving workers the right to request flexible work arrangements. The San Francisco Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance (FFWO) took effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and applies to all San Francisco employers that regularly employ 20 or more people, whether or not all employees are located in San Francisco.
The ordinance provides rights and protections for qualifying employees who need flexible or predictable work arrangements in order to care for specific family members (spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandchild or grandparent) who are either (a) under age 18; (b) over age 65; or (c) living with a serious health condition (illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that requires either inpatient care or continuing healthcare treatment or supervision).
To qualify, the employee must:
-Be employed within the City of San Francisco;
-Regularly work at least 8 hours per week; and
-Have worked for their employer for at least 6 months.
Assuming that you qualify under this local provision, you have the right to request a flexible or predictable work arrangement to care for your child. If you don’t qualify under the FFWO, you could still qualify for intermittent time off and/or flexible schedule under certain state laws, such as the California Family Rights Act and New Parent Leave Act.
Under the FFWO, a request must be in writing and specify the arrangement applied for, the date on which the arrangement becomes effective, the duration of the arrangement, and how the request is related to caregiving. The flexible arrangement may include modified work schedules, change in start and end times, working from home and telecommuting. An employee may make up to two requests in a 12-month period, unless the employee experiences a major life event, in which case they may make an additional request during that timeframe. You can find a sample FFWO Request form on The City and County of San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE)’s website https://sfgov.org/olse/family-friendly-workplace-ordinance-ffwo.
An employer must arrange to meet with the employee to discuss any FFWO request within 21 days after its receipt and must then provide a formal response within 21 days after the meeting. The employer’s decision must be made in writing and, if the request is denied, the employer must both provide the employee with a “bona fide business reason” for the denial and notify the employee of the right to request reconsideration. Should the employee request reconsideration, the employer must have a second meeting with the employee and issue a final decision 21 days after that meeting. Employers are further prohibited from retaliating against employees in any way for undertaking the FFWO request process.
“Bona fide business reasons” for a flexible work arrangement may include: identifiable costs, such as productivity loss, retraining or rehiring costs, or the costs of transferring employees; detrimental impact on the employer’s ability to meet customer or client demand; inability to organize work among other employees; or insufficient work time during the employee’s proposed schedule.
So, unless your employer has a bona fide business reason for denying your request, there should be no problem arranging for the modified hours you need to care for your child. If you do run into a problem, including if your employer fails to discuss the request with you or provide a response to the request within 21 days, or if you are retaliated against for making the request, you should contact a trial attorney to take appropriate legal action on your behalf.