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Supporting Working Families in Our Economy’s Recovery

Even before the pandemic, one of my top priorities was to improve the livelihood of working families, supporting a greater family friendly work culture and environment. We know that in San Francisco, approximately 80% of parents with a child under five years-old are in the workforce. Additionally 25% of households are single-parent, 32,000 San Francisco workers live with elderly families, and more of these “sandwich generation caregivers” are squeezed by competing responsibilities. As with many of our social challenges, the pandemic has laid bare the disparities faced by our struggling families, but it has also demonstrated that we can adapt our workplaces in ways we previously thought were not possible. Now, we are at a critical point for our long-term and equitable recovery in balancing the needs between both our workers and our employers. This is why I introduced legislation to expand the right of workers to have flexible workplace scheduling in order to balance their caregiving responsibilities.

First passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2014, the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance gave employees a limited ability to request flexible or predictable work arrangements, but employers had the authority to simply reject the requests outright without justifying their reasons. Eight years later, this simply doesn’t work anymore. It is no longer a question about whether employees should have flexible schedules, but how we make it work for both the employer and the employee. 

My updated version of this law creates a fair process for employers and employees to work out a resolution that benefits both sides instead of being in a binary situation where either an employer ends up losing a good worker or a worker’s physical and mental health becomes at-risk. Most importantly, employers and employees can have a continuing dialogue about an adaptive work schedule, so they can increase the longevity of the worker, naturally creating predictability in their work schedule, and promoting trust and respect that will result in greater productivity and improved worker retention.

Key features of the updated policy include:

  • Establishing a fair process for employees to work with employers in developing work arrangements

  • Mandating employers to provide flexible scheduling except in cases of undue hardship

  • Requiring employers to address the issue of teleworking employees

  • Expanding definition of care to include elderly family members other than parents

  • Increasing penalties for violations to cover the cost of care

  • Exempting small businesses with fewer than 20 employees

While San Francisco has long understood that creating a family friendly work environment is essential, we have learned over time that low-income workers and workers of color are often being impacted the most, with inconsistent scheduling and seeing less stability than their white peers. Our essential workers – whether they work in healthcare, retail, or city services – often have less workplace flexibility since they cannot work remotely and have a much harder time to balance care for their families and holding onto their jobs. That is why I’m also proud to be a cosponsor to Supervisor Gordon Mar’s legislation that will require employers to provide additional paid leave during public health emergencies. Together, both pieces of legislation will help protect our essential workforce, particularly our most vulnerable wage workers that have the most demands on their time and will balance that with the needs of our communities and small business community.

This article was published in the Richmond Review in March 2022.

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