A Solution in Search of a Problem

At a time when two-income households are the norm and women make up more than half the workforce, no one disagrees that adopting family-friendly policies for parents and caregivers is important. However, defining what “family friendly” means, how policies should be administered and how they will be enforced has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks.

Last month, Supervisor David Chiu introduced a ballot measure that, if passed in its original form, would have given parents and caregivers the right to request a predictable and flexible work schedule including part-time employment, telecommuting and/or schedule shifts. It would have mandated that employers comply with all requests as long as they did not create an “undue hardship” for the business. It would have created a complicated appeal process, taking day-to-day scheduling decisions away from employers and putting them in the hands of city bureaucrats. And, it could have imposed penalties on businesses the city determined were not in compliance.

Not surprisingly, this proposal – developed with no input from the business community – was met with strong and swift opposition from the Chamber and nearly every other business and merchant group in our city. Business owners are rightfully concerned about the impact the measure could have on their business operations and success. Restaurants, retailers and small businesses were particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of the legislation.

Responding to these concerns, Supervisor Chiu has amended the legislation to lessen its harmful impacts on employers. The latest version enables employees to formally request – up to twice per year – a flexible or predictable work schedule. Employers have 21 days to provide a written response and can deny requests for good-faith business reasons. Employees denied requests can still make a complaint with the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. However, unlike the original proposal, the labor office can only ensure that employers are following the prescribed procedure, not question the employer’s decision for denying a specific request. The legislation applies to businesses with 20 or more employees, about 8 percent of private employers and 76 percent of private-sector employees in San Francisco.

There is no doubt that if employers want to retain a quality workforce, they must try to accommodate the needs of parents and caregivers. Both flexible schedules and certainty in weekly work shifts are important to families, and most employers in San Francisco are already doing their best to accommodate the needs of their employees. Family-friendly policies are one tool to help retain talent, and that’s good for business.

Supervisor Chiu’s amended proposal is a vast improvement over what was originally proposed from the employer’s point of view. However, as the job-creators in our city, we must ask, is this ballot measure really necessary? Will it help to address the issue of family flight, or just add another layer of bureaucracy for businesses already operating in a highly-regulated environment? Would other policies like affordable housing or school choice initiatives be more effective in keeping families in our city?

As the dialogue over “family-friendly” policies continues, these are the questions that must be asked. In coming weeks, the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether or not to place this measure on the ballot. We hope it will address these complex questions, so that voters won’t have to this November.