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Flexible Work Has Flexible Boundaries

Employees seek flexibility at work, but what does that mean? Flexibility can include staggering start and end times at work, working a compressed week, or working from a different place than the office. According to SHRM, in 2015, 55% of employees cited flexibility to balance work and life issues as a very important to their job satisfaction, a 10% increase over 2014.

Employees whose lives fit with their work are almost twice as likely to want to stay at their jobs and are four times more engaged at work than employees who do not have good work life fit, according to When Work Works. Although employees of all genders and generations are interested in flexible work, millennials have an even more intense interest in having access to flexible positions that still allow for professional growth. 74% of millennials surveyed by Ernst & Young wanted to be able to work flexibly and still be on track for a promotion.             

Despite the intense and growing interest in flexibility, there currently is a lack of legal structure around what workplace flexibility is, and how to get it. There is no “flexibility standard” per se, and employees have no legal right to flexibility at work, unless it’s flexibility being requested as a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Or, employees can argue that they are being denied flexibility that their co-workers are allowed for a discriminatory reason. However, two pieces of legislation in New York have been introduced to address this issue, one bill is awaiting signature from the Governor, and the other did not make it out of the City Council committee on Civil Service and Labor.

SB5811A requires that a biennial report be made to the Legislature outlining current programs within state agencies that allow for alternative work schedules and examines the agencies’ experience with these flexible programs, as well as issues which may impact the agencies’ ability to offer flexible work settings. This reporting requirement will provide a basic understanding of what is already happening within state agencies, and the steps they can take to increase flexibility over time.

Int. No. 1399, introduced in the New York City Council, would establish an interactive process, giving employees the right to request a modification in work arrangement from their employers, requiring that employers respond within 14 days. It would also create a right to receive certain changes in work arrangements if the employee experiences a childcare or personal health emergency, or if a family member is the victim of sexual offense or stalking. This bill had a hearing in committee, but was not voted on.

Thus, employees continue to push for flexibility, while employers and government continue to try and create structure to meet the demand for flexibility to balance the work and life demands for the labor force.