By: Andrew J. Sommer

San Francisco has just become the first municipality in the country to pass a law providing working parents and caregivers the “right to request” flexible or predictable work schedules. The law, which will take effect on January 1, 2014, applies to employers with 20 or more employees within the City of San Francisco.  Known as the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, the new law allows San Francisco-based employees, after completing six months of employment, to request a flexible or predictable working arrangement so that they can assist with caregiving responsibilities for (1) a child; (2) a parent age 65 or older; or (3) a spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild with a serious health condition.    

Any employee requesting this flexible working arrangement must do so in writing, and specify the arrangement applied for, the date on which the arrangement becomes effective, the duration of the arrangement and how the request is related to caregiving.  Under the ordinance, the flexible arrangement may include modified work schedules, change in start and end times, working from home and telecommuting. 

The employer must meet with the employee within 21 days of receiving the request, and then respond in writing 21 days thereafter.  The employer may deny the request for a “bona fide business reason” such as identifiable costs, inability to meet customer demands and insufficiency of work.  Any denial must set out a bona fide business reason and notify the employee of the right to request reconsideration. 

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against any employee for requesting a flexible or predictable working schedule.   The San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement is supposed to publish a notice of rights under this ordinance, which qualifying employers will be required to post in the workplace.  The San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement is also charged with investigating any complaints for violation of this ordinance and may initiate civil action against employers to secure compliance.  While the agency may review adherence with procedural and posting requirements, it is not authorized to issue findings regarding the validity of the employer’s bona fide business reason for denying an employee’s request for a flexible or predictable working arrangement.  

Companies with employees in San Francisco should become familiar with the procedural requirements of this ordinance and update their personnel policies and procedures accordingly.