Saturday, July 28, 2007

Family Leave and the Law

WilliamsThis weekend's New York Times Magazine has a feature story by Eyal Press on family leave in the U.S.  The story is too long to properly summarize, but it discusses topics such as sex discrimination lawsuits under Title VII lawsuits based on stereotypical views of family obligations and the EEOC's recent guidance on that issue.  The story is well worth a read, in part for several of real-life examples which, even to someone who reads about this area regularly, were eye-popping.  Particular note should be made of the story's focus on Joan Williams (Hastings), who has been a major force in this area.  Press describes Williams as:

. . . approaching rock-star status among the small but growing network of lawyers and scholars who litigate or study family-responsibility discrimination cases. . . .  Williams has been racing across the country giving such speeches since 2000, the year her book “Unbending Gender” appeared. In the book, which set in motion the legal trend that now consumes much of her time, Williams argued that the growing tension between work and family was not simply a product of economic necessity. It stemmed, rather, from a marketplace structured around a increasingly outdated masculine norm: the “ideal worker” who can work full time for an entire career while enjoying “immunity from family work.” At a time when both adults in most families had come to participate in the labor force, Williams argued that this standard was unrealistic, especially for women, who remained the primary caregivers in most households. . . .

Williams [said that] she wasn’t sure when she wrote the book what the best remedy was. One possibility was legislation — subsidized child care, generous parental-leave policies — of the sort many European countries have. Another was for employees to take legal action, an idea she described in the book’s most provocative chapter. To show how discrimination can harm caregivers, Williams told the story of a lawyer with sterling performance reviews who was passed over for a promotion because she was a mother; management had assumed she wouldn’t be interested and promoted an unmarried woman instead. Even though the position was not given to a man, a court agreed the firm’s action might constitute sex discrimination, not least because numerous fathers had received such promotions. Negative assumptions about the capabilities of women with children pervade the marketplace, Williams averred, and can violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act even when employers insist their actions are not motivated by sexism.

“Unbending Gender” struck a nerve — soon after its publication, Williams found herself fielding “a zillion invitations to speak” — but its author admits she had “no idea” whether the legal theory she had sketched out might catch on. There were plenty of skeptics, which is not surprising. Unlike being black or female, after all, becoming a parent is a choice, one that often limits an employee’s availability. As she traveled across the country, Williams heard this frequently from feminists convinced that courts would side with businesses in such disputes. But she heard something different from the lawyers she met, who seemed equally certain jurors would sympathize with workers punished simply for trying to be responsible caregivers. Meanwhile, with each passing day, more lawsuits kept being filed. Williams soon established the Center for WorkLife Law, which emerged as the place to go to learn more about the subject — not only for scholars and journalists but also for employees, who started calling its hot line to find out how they, too, might file a claim.

Rock-star, indeed. 

-JH

July 28, 2007 in Labor and Employment News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)

Monitoring Compliance with the ILO

Helfer Laurence Helfer (Vanderbilt) has just posted on SSRN his article (forthcoming Law & Contemp. Problems) Monitoring Compliance with Un-Ratified Treaties: The ILO Experience.  Here's the abstract:

This article, part of an interdisciplinary symposium on international delegation, analyzes grants of authority to international organizations (IOs) to monitor compliance with un-ratified treaties and non-binding norms and standards.
 
It begins with a historical review of the different ways in which officials and review bodies of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to monitor compliance with treaties and recommendations that the organization has adopted but that a member state has not ratified or otherwise accepted as legally binding. The ILO membership has repeatedly expanded these monitoring powers since the organization's founding in 1919. It has done so both informally (by allowing ILO officials to expand the scope of the initial delegation that established the organization) and formally (by amending the ILO constitution to codify and further enlarge these informal expansions of the organization's monitoring authority). Taken together, these developments challenge the conventional wisdom that the delegation of authority to the ILO involves only modest sovereignty costs.
 
The article then uses the ILO's history to emphasize the importance of delegations that authorize international bodies to monitor compliance with nonbinding international rules. Such delegations often arise and thrive outside of the formal channels of authority. This makes it essential for scholars to look beyond treaty texts and institutional design features to consider how power is actually exercised within IOs and how the costs and benefits of international delegations change over time. Finally, the article considers what insights the ILO offers for delegations to other IOs. It argues that monitoring compliance with unconsented-to legal rules is an alternative institutional response to a problem that many IOs confront: how to ensure that all states affected by a cooperation problem participate in the resolution of that problem rather than free riding on the efforts of other countries.

rb

July 28, 2007 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Top-5 Benefits/Compensation/Pension SSRN Downloads

Top-5 International Employment & Labor Law SSRN Downloads

Friday, July 27, 2007

The 9th Annual National Law Students Workers Rights Conference . . .

. . . , sponsored by the Peggy Browning Fund, will be held October 19-20, 2007.  Watch the fund's website for soon-to-be-posted details.

rb

July 27, 2007 in Conferences & Colloquia | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Reminder: Registration Deadline for Labor/Employment Conference is Approaching

Monday is the deadline for registering for the Second Annual Colloquium on Current Scholarship in Labor/Employment Law, which will be held Sept. 28-29 at U. Denver and U. Colorado.  I didn't make it last year and wish I had; I'll be attending and presenting this year.  Scott Moss reports that registrations are way up from last year, which itself was quite an impressive collection of scholars.  Scott also requests:

Please pass this information on to others, especially those who may be new to, or completely outside, legal academia.  Last year, it was nice that word of the event somehow reached a lot of aspiring profs, non-profs, and others who really needed the work-in-progress audience more than those of us who already have been prof'ing for a few years. I hope we can draw a similar amount of new blood to this year's event.

rb

July 27, 2007 in Faculty Presentations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ERISA Preemption Part Trois: The San Francisco Story

Medical_symbol2 In light of the success in Maryland and Suffolk County, New York, it is probably little wonder that a similar fair share health care bill is now being challenged under ERISA preemption principles in San Francisco (indeed, I predicted as much here). But there seems to be a new argument being emphasized in this litigation.

Law.com has the story:

Now the San Francisco City Attorney's Office is in federal court defending a law that's intended to bring about universal health care coverage, and its lawyers insist they have found a way to overcome federal pre-emption.

If U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California agrees and grants a summary judgment motion the city filed last week, some employment lawyers say the case would put San Francisco at the forefront of a movement to shift more of the nation's spiraling health care costs onto the shoulders of business . . . .

Though San Francisco's law is based on an employer-funded concept that's similar to those in Maryland and New York, Vince Chhabria, a deputy city attorney who's defending San Francisco's law in federal court, said the city's alternative is "a totally different animal."

He argues that the alternative options in the Maryland and New York laws fell short because they required businesses to pay the government without the government directly giving them anything in return.

Under the San Francisco law, employers who don't offer private insurance would still have to pay an equivalent amount to the government. But their employees would get discounted health benefits provided by the city in exchange.

An interesting argument that I did not foresee being brought up.  However, I am still skeptical that this "better alternative" approach will allow the law to survive ERISA preemption.  At the end of the day, the law still interferes too much with the administration and management of ERISA health plans under the current standards.  A mandate is a mandate.

The case is Golden Gate Restaurant Association v. San Francisco, 06-6997.

PS

July 27, 2007 in Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Worker Fired for Text Messaging ... 38,000 Times!

Textmessagingservicepicture OK, employers can give a little latitiude for today's younger employees who are text message obsessed, right? But I don't think anyone can blame this Polish employer for saying enough is enough (via Yahoo! News and AP):

A Polish bus driver has been fired for sending 38,000 text messages on his company cell phone in a losing effort to win contest jackpot, a spokesman said Thursday.

Leszek Wojcik, a bus driver in the northwestern Polish city of Slupsk, ran up a tab of some 94,000 zlotys ($34,000) with his text messages while trying to win a 100,000-zloty ($36,000) SMS contest that ended June 30, Slupsk city transport spokesman Hubert Boba told The Associated Press.

Boba said a city bus drivers' monthly company phone bill is supposed to be limited to 15 zlotys ($5).

Wojcik sent an average of 1,200 SMS text messages a day, each costing 2.40 zlotys ($0.86), on his work cell phone.

I think I'll just let this story speak for itself.

PS

July 27, 2007 in Labor and Employment News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Fee Disclosure Bill for 401(k) Plans Introduced in Congress

Capitoldome PlanSponsor.com is reporting this morning that Rep. George Miller is introducing a bill which would require mandatory disclosure of mutual fund fees to 401(k) participants.  Here are the details:

Congressman George Miller (D-California) has introduced the 401(k) Fair Disclosure for Retirement Security Act of 2007 "to ensure that American workers have clear and complete information about fees that could be cutting deeply into their 401(k)-style retirement savings," according to a press release. The legislation would require plan administrators to disclose, in clear and simple terms, all fees charged to plan participants each year; call for more detailed information on investment strategies, risks, and returns when participants sign up for their company's 401(k); require the inclusion of a least one “lower-cost, balanced index fund” in the plan's menu; ensure that all fees and conflicts of interest are disclosed annually to plan sponsors; and enhance the Department of Labor’s oversight of 401(k) plans.

This development can hardly be considered surprising given the attention that the fee issue has received over the past couple years. More information about the bill is available here.

PS

July 27, 2007 in Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Texas AG Sues for Breach of Right to Work Law

Texas The BNA Daily Labor Report (subscription required) this morning reports that the Texas Attorney General has filed a complaint against two companies for allegedly forcing employees to join a union or pay dues in violation of the state's right to work laws.  State right to work laws are expressly allowed under the NLRA and permit nonmember employees not to have support the union even through agency fees.

BNA further reports:

What drew the state into the cases, Kelley said, was a determination last month by a federal administrative law judge that the state had an interest and jurisdiction in the El Paso case where an employee was suspended for refusing to pay union dues because the facility was not an "exclusive federal enclave." . . . .

"The law guarantees important right-to-work protections for Texas workers," [Attorney General] Abbott said in nearly identical statements announcing the suits. "Texans have the right to work without having to join a labor union or pay union dues. The Office of the Attorney General will aggressively enforce Texas' right-to-work laws and will take all necessary measures to protect workers' freedom from compulsory union membership."

I guess this going to be a day of unusuals.  The cases are Texas v. Deco-Akal JV, Tex. Dist. Ct., No. 2007-3372, complaint filed 7/24/07; Texas v. Asset Prot. & Sec. Servs. L.P., Tex. Dist. Ct., No. 073961-B, complaint filed 7/24/07. 

More information about the cases is available from the Houston Chronicle.

Hat Tip:  Hank Leland

PS

July 27, 2007 in Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Professors Locked Out in Canada

Bishops_2 In a rather unusual turn of events, Bishop's University in Quebec has locked out its professors. The Canadian Association of University Teachers reports:

The employer at Bishop's University has walked away from the bargaining table and announced a lock-out of all unionized academic and non-academic staff.

Negotiators for Bishop's University Corporation and the Association of Professors of Bishop's University (APBU) began round-the-clock negotiations on Sunday, July 22, and, after considerable progress was made at all tables, the union prepared a new proposal for the employer.

Before allowing the union to table the proposal, the employer walked away from the bargaining table and announced the lock out of all unionized employees, non-academic and academic, beginning at 12:01 a.m. July 26.

For more information about the lock out, you can visit the union's web page.

Hat Tip:  Ravi Malhotra

PS

July 27, 2007 in Union News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Which Paul Just Turned 50?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Churchill Saga and Pickering Rights

Churchillward How's this for a brilliant Title VII fact pattern for an Employment Discrimination Law exam? (Stop salivating my summer employment discrimination students, this won't be on the exam (but at least I know you read the blog like I told you to!)).  In any event, it actually will be a First Amendment retaliation question, but a similar analysis to mixed motive cases under Title VII.

In any event, here's the update on the Ward Churchill saga from the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

Nearly six years after Ward Churchill compared some American victims of terrorism to Nazi bureaucrats, the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado voted Tuesday night to fire him. But the controversial ethnic-studies professor said he was "ready to roll" into the next stage of his struggle with the university: a court of law.

According to university administrators, it was findings that Mr. Churchill had committed research misconduct -- and not the notoriety of Mr. Churchill's opinions -- that fueled the decision.

So Churchill must jump through the following hoops to succeed on a First Amendment Pickering claim: (1) that he was not speaking pursuant to official duties (easy); (2) that he was speaking on a matter of public concern (pretty obvious); (3) that his rights to free speech outweigh the University's right to run an efficient workplace (not so obvious); (4) that his speech was the motivating and substantial reason for his termination (will depend on all the evidence); and (5) Colorado would not have made the same decision even in the absence of the protected speech (only if Churchill can show that he did not engage in research misconduct that amounted to cause for his termination).

In talking about this case with Brian Leiter (Texas), he points out that Colorado has always claimed that this case is about academic misconduct and not speech.  Does that mean step 5 will be the only issue in question?

First, I don’t think legally it would matter what prior position Colorado has been taking publicly (I mean they didn’t waive the argument since they haven’t filed an Answer), but maybe it would not be a good prudential strategy from the standpoint of public relations and because it might undermine their main argument that they agree that the speech was protected, but the firing had nothing to do with speech.

In any event, I would expect the university to use every argument at their disposal, including that Garcetti  v. Ceballos means that since this was speech pursuant to official duties there is no First Amendment protection and, even if there is a First Amendment right, that that right under the Pickering balance (Step 3 above) is substantially outweighed by the university’s interest in maintaining an efficient public service without disruption of working relationships, the university's image, and the values it seeks to embrace.

In short, litigation strategy is often different than public relations strategy. Overall, though, my point is that public employees have a steep hill to climb in these First Amendment public employee cases because of all the hoops that need to be jumped through.  Those not familiar with public employee terrain might be surprised how much different this framework is than for citizen claims under the First Amendment.

PS

July 26, 2007 in Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Should "The Price is Right" Start Thinking BFOQ?

Priceisright Interesting post over at Balkinization by Ian Ayres.  The post surrounds the selection of Drew Carey as the new host to replace Bob Barker at "The Price is Right" game show.  As is well know, Rosie O'Donnell also indicated her interest in being selected as the new host.

Ian points out some troubling facts emerging from the selection of Carey:

A few weeks ago, when retiring icon Bob Barker was asked at the Daytime Emmy about who might replace him, he mentioned Rosie O'Donnell:

"I believe they're going to have a meeting with Rosie.  She knows the show. There's no doubt in my mind she could do the show."

But in a moment of candor, he went on and said:

"Now, whether they want a lady host, I don't know. I've never heard that discussed. As far as I know, they've only auditioned men."

Only auditioned men? Is that because there is something about the essence or mission about The Price is Right as a business that requires a man to be host? In other words, is being a man a bona fide occupational qualification (bfoq)?  Ian points out:

The EEOC Guidelines do allow intentional sex discrimination in hiring an actor or actress where the sex-specific roles are necessary for the "purpose of authenticity or genuineness," see 29 C.F.R. § 1604.2(a)(2).

They better hope this applies (and I doubt it very much) because if not, it sounds like Rosie O'Donnell would have a pretty solid sex discrimination claim under Title VII.

Hat Tip:  Daily Dish

PS

July 26, 2007 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LaRue Supreme Court Case in Doubt

4united_states_supreme_court_112904 In the ERISA case due to be heard by the Supreme Court this Fall, LaRue v. DeWolff, Boberg & Associates, et al. (docket 06-856) (which we have written about previously here and here), a new development may cause the Court to dismiss the case as moot.

According to Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog:

Attorneys for a nationwide management consulting firm involved in a case the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear at its next Term have urged the Justices to dismiss the case as moot. In a motion filed on Monday, counsel for DeWolff, Boberg & Associates Inc. said that the individual who took the case to the Supreme Court has withdrawn all of his funds from his pension plan account, leaving him "with no legally cognizable interest in the outcome of the case." [The motion is here] . . . The individual involved has a right to file a response . . .

Thomas P. Gies, a Washington attorney for DeWolff Boberg, told the Court that, in assembling materials for a merits brief in the case, his office "discovered that on July 22, 2006, while the case was still pending before the Fourth Circuit," LaRue withdraw all of his funds from his account.

So why is the claim moot if LaRue withdrew his funds? According to the motion filed by Geis:

The ERISA provision at issue in the first question raised allows a lawsuit by "a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary," the motion said. There is no legal basis, the motion contended, for allowing a former participant in a defined contribution plan to bring a lawsuit under that section to recover damages measured by lost profits. The Supreme Court, it noted, has not addressed the issue.

The provision at issue in the second legal claim, according to the motion, also makes that issue moot. The claim LaRue made under that section, it noted, was that he was only seeking to have the plan reflect what would have been his interest in it. Now that he is a former plan participant, the motion contended, he has no legally cognizable interest in a recovery by the plan.

In the alternative, DeWolff Boberg has asked the Court to decide an issue that continues to divide the circuits: "whether a worker who is no longer a participant in an ERISA plan has a right to sue for damages measured by lost value in his plan."

FWIW, I agree with a comment to the SCOTUSblog post which states: "Petitioner's claim accrued at the time respondents failed to perform their duties. The fund would have had more money and petitioner's balance would have been more than $119,000."

PS

July 26, 2007 in Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Keep Truckin' ... But Not For More Than 10 Hours At a Time

Truck AP has the details:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out a Bush administration decision to allow long-haul truckers to drive for up to 11 hours straight.

For 60 years, truckers could drive for 10 hours at a time. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been trying to change the rule to allow truckers another hour of driving time.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in Tuesday's ruling that the FMCSA did not adequately explain its reasoning for adding the extra hour.

The opinion is in Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Ass'n, Inc. v. FMCSA, 06-1035 (D.C. Cir. July 24, 2007).

Not surprisingly, Parents Against Tired Truckers cheered the decision.

PS

July 25, 2007 in Labor and Employment News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit Rejects Cat's Paw Employment Discrimination Theory

Cats_paw Thanks to Ross Runkel and his Employment Law Memo for alerting me to the recent 9th Circuit case of Poland v. Chertoff, No. 05-35508 (9th Cir  July 20, 2007), in which the court joins the majority of circuits in rejecting the  4th Circuit's cat's paw approach to vicarious liability. The case concerned a disparate treatment ADEA case where the plaintiff had alleged constructive discharge and retaliation.

Ross has the details:

One issue on appeal was the rule to govern when a subordinate's bias will be imputed to an employer. The court rejected the "but for" test as insufficient in this context to impute the subordinate's bias to his employer. The court also rejected the employer's suggestion to follow the "cat's paw" approach of the 4th Circuit as too limited. The court held that if a subordinate, in response to an employee's protected activity, set in motion a proceeding by an independent decisionmaker that led to an adverse employment action, the subordinate's bias was imputed to the employer if the employee could prove that the allegedly independent adverse employment decision was not actually independent because the biased subordinate influenced or was involved in the decision or decisionmaking process. The court stated this was consistent with the law in the majority of circuits.

Of course, the Supreme Court just recently granted cert. in such a case, only to dismiss it after agreement was reached by the parties. Could this be the next Supreme Court cat's paw case?

PS

July 25, 2007 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Certifies Landmark ADA Class Action Against UPS

Upslogo David Scott of Scott + Scott and lead litigation counsel in Hohider v. UPS, 04-363 (W.D. Pa. July 16, 2007), brings word that the Western District of Pennsylvania has just certified a nationwide action on behalf of certain UPS present and former employees. This is a matter of first impression in application of the class-action mechanism to this type of ADA case.

The action challenges an alleged systemic policy and practice at UPS of not allowing employees back to work after an injury or medical leave of absence absent a doctor's note indicating the employee is "100% healed" or has no work restrictions.  Of course, if true, such conduct would amount to disability discrimination and failure to reasonably accommodate the employees in question.

Clearly, certification of this large class goes a long way in having the case come out favorably in favor of the class plaintiffs. 

Attached is a press release from Scott & Scott and a link to the 204-page class certification opinion in the case can be found at the link above.

PS

July 25, 2007 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cunningham-Parmeter on Using the 5th to Protect Immigrant Workers

Cunninghamparmeter Keith Cunningham-Parmeter (Willamette) has just posted on SSRN his article Fear of Discovery: Immigrant Workers and the Fifth Amendment (forthcoming Cornell Int'l L.J.).  Here's the abstract:

Do you have papers? Immigrant workers increasingly face this question in civil litigation. Citing the Supreme Court's decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, which stated that undocumented immigrants cannot recover monetary damages for labor law violations, employers argue that many employment protections no longer apply to this group of workers. Consistent with this argument, employers pose immigration-related questions during discovery, causing an already uneasy class of plaintiffs to cease suing employers in order to avoid answering questions about their immigration status. Professor Cunningham-Parmeter explains how status-based discovery not only inhibits immigrant employees from vindicating their workplace rights but also undermines the employment protections at issue. Without an effective method for stemming the flood of status-based inquiries born of Hoffman, immigrants will continue to opt-out of civil litigation, unwilling to assert even the strongest claims for workplace violations. Cunningham-Parmeter argues that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination provides the most effective method for serving immigrants' competing litigation interests: protection from intimidation and vindication of substantive employment rights. He contends that the policies in support of extending the privilege to the civil context play a prominent role in immigrant-initiated litigation. Civil libertarian values traditionally ascribed to the privilege such as fairness, privacy, and the prevention of cruelty are threatened when courts grant defendants unfettered access to status-based discovery. After outlining the policies and principles of the privilege, Cunningham-Parmeter explains the process and potential consequences of invocation, including the adverse inferences a court may draw from the witness's silence. Cunningham-Parmeter outlines factors counseling against adverse inferences such as the unreliability of silence and the irrelevance of immigration status to most employment claims. Even if courts infer that silent plaintiffs are undocumented immigrants, Cunningham-Parmeter argues the outcome would improve the current state of affairs by clarifying the courts' position on the relevance of status. Thus, the privilege serves both protective and explanatory functions by guarding the witness's status-based information, while requiring a determination of immigrant-based employment rights in the post-Hoffman era.

rb

July 25, 2007 in Employment Common Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Part-Time Work for Parents

Working_mother Judith Warner, in a New York Times op-ed piece, discusses the availability of part-time work for mothers (and fathers to a lesser extent).  She makes some interesting points and notes current efforts by Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Maloney to enact a workplace flexibility law:

Only 24 percent of working mothers now work part time. The reason so few do isn’t complicated: most women can’t afford to. Part-time work doesn’t pay. Women on a reduced schedule earn almost 18 percent less than their full-time female peers with equivalent jobs and education levels, according to research by Janet Gornick, a professor of sociology and political science at City University of New York, and the labor economist Elena Bardasi. Part-time jobs rarely come with benefits. They tend to be clustered in low-paying fields like the retail and service industries. And in better-paid professions, a reduced work schedule very often can mean cutting down from 50-plus hours a week to 40-odd — hardly a “privilege” worth paying for with a big pay cut.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Europe, significant steps have been made to make part-time work a livable reality for those who seek it. Denying fair pay and benefits to part-time workers is now illegal. Parents in Sweden have the right to work a six-hour day at prorated pay until their children turn 8 years old. Similar legislation helps working parents in France, Austria, and Belgium and any employee in Germany and the Netherlands who wants to cut back. Even Britain has a (comparatively tame) pro-family law that guarantees parents and other caregivers the right to request a flexible schedule from their employers. European employers have the right to refuse workers’ requests, but research shows that very few actually do. And workers have the right to appeal the denials. . . .

I think that when it comes to setting priorities for (currently nonexistent) American work-family policy, we ought to go for the greatest good for the greatest number.  The place to start, ideally, would be universal health care, which is really the necessary condition for making freedom of choice a reality for working parents. European-style regulations outlawing wage and benefit discrimination against part-time workers would be nice, too, though it’s not a terribly realistic goal for the U.S., where even unpaid family leave is still a hot-button issue for employers.

A British-style “soft touch” law could, however, be within the realm of the possible. Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Carolyn Maloney are circulating draft legislation modeled on the British workplace flexibility law that would give employees — all workers, not just moms or parents — the right to request a flexible schedule. The legislation — which would require employers to discuss flexibility with workers who request it, but wouldn’t require them to honor the requests — has a little bit of something for everyone: protection from retaliation for workers who fear letting on that they’re eager to cut back, protection from “unfunded mandates” for businesses.

I have doubts whether any politically feasible measures would have a major impact aside from helping to bring about a cultural shift that looks more favorably on flexible schedules.  This culture is important, as inertia in employers' thinking about these issues seems to be a serious obstacle in this area.  For example, OPM has long made explicit that agencies should promote flexible schedules and work locations, but most agencies have resisted employee attempts to make it happen.

I also suspect that, to the extent that a shift may happen, it will come from higher-skilled employees that employers don't want to lose, rather than the lower-skilled work that Warner discusses.   When I was at the NLRB's Appellate Court Branch, we had several working mothers doing fantastic part-time work.  There was a critical mass of mothers on this schedule and it worked well, in large part because everyone was usually willing to be flexible with everyone else's schedules. The result is that we were able to keep great attorneys in the office.

As Warner notes, however, there are problems.  For instance, when my wife went to part-time schedule, she lost many of her benefits.  It wasn't a big deal for her, but that's not true for a lot of mothers.  My wife's experience also brings up another important aspect of flexibility that Warner didn't touch on.  Even before going part-time, she's been a telecommuter and worked completely from home.  She's had to make some sacrifices to do this, such as being classified as a contractor and shifting her focus to writing and editing, but it has been the most important factor in her staying at work (and has made her one of my best sources of hypos in class).  Moreover, it's worked well for her employer, a federal agency; although they initially had to make some adjustments for her, the only thing they want to change now is for her to come back full-time soon.

-JH

July 24, 2007 in Labor and Employment News | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)