Open Flexible Work

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Open Flexible Work:
State Legislative Models

Below you’ll find a menu of model state legislation (most of which has passed in at least one state) as well as guidelines for state legislators and advocates relating to open flexible work programs that can be tailored for use in their own states. 

Here are a few key legislative models enacted or proposed in various states (for more details, read below):

THE BIG PICTURE OF OPEN FLEXIBLE WORK:  While family leave helps families deal with large events like birth, adoption and major illness, many families also need more day-to-day flexibility from their workplaces to deal with the everyday needs of their families. 

Policies to help achieve that open flexible work include these areas discussed in more detail below:

  1. Allowing workers to take time off for childrens' educational activities
  2. Guaranteeing days off for self and family needs
  3. Restricting mandatory overtime so employees can plan a reasonable home life

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1. Time off for Childrens' Educational Activities

Twelve states require employers to allow time for employees to participate in their childrens' educational activities.  The most generous program is in California, which gives parents 40 hours per year to participate in school activities.   

Guidelines and Models for Time Off for Educational Activities

  • California's Family-School Partnership Act (Labor Code Sec. 230.8) gives parents 40 hours off per year for school activities.
  • Vermont 21 V.S.A. 472a gives parents 4 hours off in any 30-day period for medical or school activities.

Talking Points on Time Off for Educational Activities

  • Parental involvement in a child’s school activities is one of the most important factors in determining school success. Yet many parents, particularly low-income parents, risk losing their jobs or suffering professionally if they take time off to attend a parent-teacher conference or other school functions.

Other Resources on Time Off for Educational Activities

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2. Days Off for Self and Family Needs

The ultimate goal should be to to establish a basic pro-family policy: allow employees a guaranteed number of Paid Sick Days off a year if they or their children get sick or need other kinds of care. This seems like such a basic right that 60% of Americans think it's already the law.  But it's not.

Private employers have the right to fire an employee if they miss any day of work for any reason (unless they are protected by a union collective bargaining agreement.) Many employers have established voluntary policies to provide days for their employees, but barely half (51%) of employers provide any paid sick days to their employees and only one in three (30%) allow employees to take off work because of a sick child.  So 70% of parents face losing income or even losing their job every time they stay home with a sick child.

States are promoting a number of programs to address this problem:

  • Allowing Parents to Use Existing Sick Days to Care for Family Members: The Maine Women's Lobby helped enact the Family Care Act in 2005 (LD 1044),which requires employers with twenty-five or more employees who do provide sick days to allow employees to use them for care of a sick child, spouse or parent. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin have similar laws.    
  • Guaranteeing Paid Sick Days Off:  Similar to the minimum wage, the ideal is a guaranteed number of days off each year that can be used to care for family members as well.
Guidelines and Models for Sick Days

  • Maine's Family Care Act allows parents to use existing personal sick days to also care for children.
  • San Francisco is voting on a ballot proposal to guarantee up to nine sick days per year for full-time workers at large businesses, with fewer days off for employees in small businesses or in part-time jobs.
  • Madison, WI has a vibrant Healthy Families, Healthy City Campaign that is working to guarantee eight to nine sick days per year to all workers in the city.
  • In Massachusetts, legislative leaders have sponsored SB 1130 and HB 3788, which would provide a minimum of 7 paid sick days per year for all workers.
Talking Points on Paid Sick Days

  • 68% of working-class families have two weeks or less of vacation and sick leave combined.  70% of parents face losing income or even losing their job every time they stay home with a sick child.
  • Paid sick leave gives workers an opportunity to regain their health, return to full productivity at work, and avoid spreading disease to their co-workers, all of which reduces employers’ overall absence expense.  Research documents that paid sick leave policies reduce the rate of contagious infections in the workplace by isolating sick workers at home
  • When parents are able to stay home to care for sick children, it helps the children get well faster. Giving parents more flexibility is crucial since most child care centers typically forbid attendance by sick children-- and those that do risk just spreading illness among other children if parents are not able to stay home to care for them.

Other Resources for Paid Sick Days

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3. Restricting Mandatory Overtime

One of the toughest burdens on parents can be demands for mandatory overtime, especially when little notice is given and parents have little chance to plan for alternative child care arrangements.  Such overtime also increases stress and can lead to more mistakes and accidents.

While there are few general state laws restricting overtime hours -- Maine limits overtime to no more than an additional eighty hours in any two-week period -- a number of states have begun creating more serious restrictions on mandatory overtime for certain occupations, particularly in the nursing field.  These laws can serve as a model for restricting overtime more generally in the population.     

  • Restrict Mandatory Overtime: California, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia have passed laws that restrict mandatory overtime by nurses, such as allowing nurses to refuse any shift longer than 12 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • Prohibit Mandatory Overtime: In Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, nurses are protected from mandatory overtime altogether except in emergency situations.  No retaliation is allowed against any nurse who refuses overtime.

While these laws apply so far only to nurses, they are good models for giving workers in other occupations greater control over their schedules.  

Guidelines and Models for Restricting Mandatory Overtime

Talking Points on Restricting Mandatory Overtime

  • Mandatory overtime disrupts parents child care arrangements and often forces them to choose between their jobs and their children's well-being when no child care is available during an overtime shift.  Overtime poses special problems for “tag-team”? families where dad and mom work opposite shifts, so that each can take care of the kids when the other is at work. 
  • Even when child care is available, most centers charge steep fees (often one dollar per minute) if children are picked up late.  And parents who pick up their children late sometime face losing their child care arrangements due to frustration by child care providers.
  • Unwanted overtime can lead to parental stress that is bad for business productivity.  Conversely, businesses that offer flexibility to employees see increased productivity and profits.
  • In caregiving professions like nursing, mandatory overtime endangers patient health and safety.  Many studies show that mandatory overtime leads to increased mistakes and higher accident rates.

Other Resources on Mandatory Overtime

Go to MomsRising Open Flexible Work Page

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