Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let’s all strive to be a little more flexible

Two weeks ago I had no choice but to take my 8-year-old daughter to a hearing. My wife was out of town for work, and Norah was home from school sick with a fever. So, we packed up her iPod and a Harry Potter book, and we drove down to the Industrial Commission. We had a great morning. We stopped for breakfast at Starbucks and talked—about school, her friends, and life in general. In the back of my mind, however, I was a bit on edge, as I had no idea how the hearing officer would react to an unplanned bring-your-daughter-to-work day.

As it turns out, my edge was for naught. The hearing officer could not have been cooler. She welcomed Norah to the hearing room with open arms, and complimented her on our way out on how well she behaved (as if there was any doubt). In fact, she was so cool that she noted “Miss Hyman” as having made an appearance for the Employer in her written opinion.

Compare my story to that of an attorney, who, having given birth, asked a Department of Justice Immigration Judge to continue a hearing. Amazingly, that judge refused. Or, consider this example from my past of a lawyer who refused to agree to a continuance while my son was in the hospital.

What’s the lesson here? Career and life don’t always get along. Yet, the meaning of “working time” in this country is changing. Technology has made it much easier for employees to work anywhere at any time. The law, however, is traditionally slow to react. Last month, the 7th Circuit held that regular attendance at work is an essential function of most jobs (even in the face of the defendant-employer’s “Work at Home” policy), and, next year, the 6th Circuit will decide the issue of telecommuting as an ADA reasonable accommodation.

Just because the law is slow to react to this paradigm shift in the definition of “work” does not mean that you should avoid flexible work policies for your employees. Employers that can adapt to the shifting needs of their employees, and their ability to work outside the four walls of the office and the traditional 9-to-5 hours, will have a leg up on attracting and retaining talent. Isn’t that the best reason to be flexible with your workers?

Oh, and in case you’re curious, Norah’s legal career is off to a rousing start. She’s 1-0. She’ll have a tough when she grows up between lawyer or rock star.