Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The uselessness of the Working Families Flexibility Act

WorkplaceHorizons has tipped me off to a recently introduced Senate bill, the Working Families Flexibility Act.

This bill, sponsored by Senators Obama and Clinton among others, would provide employees with the right to request, once every 12 months, that his or her employer modify the employee's work hours, schedule, or location. The Act would then require the employer to meet with the employee to discuss the requested modification within 14 days. Within 14 days of that meeting, the employer would have to provide the employee with a written decision regarding the requested modification, stating the grounds for any denial and any proposed alternative modifications. If the employee is still dissatisfied with the employer's decision, the bill would allow the employee to request reconsideration and require the employer and the employee to meet to again discuss the request. The Act covers employees who work at least 20 hours per week and 1,000 hours per year, and employers with 15 or more employees.

The Act also would make it unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee's attempt to exercise his or her rights under the Act or to retaliate against an employee. Aggrieved individuals could file a complaint with the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration of the United States Department of Labor. Violations could result in civil fines of up to $5,000 per violation and equitable relief such as reinstatement, promotion, back pay, and changes to terms and conditions of employment.

Last I checked, the employer sets the terms and conditions of employment, especially on the core issues of work hours, schedules, and locations. Do employees really need federal legislation to go to a supervisor and ask for such an accommodation? Will this legislation change employers' responses to reasonable requests? Won't employers still guide their responses by the specific needs of their businesses? Further, as long as an employer goes through this interactive process, where is the harm to the employee, who is granted no right to any modification? However, every time an employee's request is rejected, he or she will scream interference or retaliation to the DOL, creating an administrative nightmare. Talk about worthless legislation. This bill is currently sitting in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, where I hope it dies a quick death.