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New San Francisco Ordinance Requires Employers To Discuss Family Life Accommodations

11/18/2013 Articles

Effective January 1, 2014, the San Francisco Friendly Workplace Ordinance will provide employees working within City and County limits a specified method to request flexible work schedules or other accommodations to help the employee with childcare obligations and other similar household obligations.  The ordinance applies to employers who regularly employ 20 or more employees, including part-time employees, within the City of San Francisco. 

The ordinance grants employees with 6 or more months of service and who work at least 8 hours per week the right to request a flexible work arrangement to accommodate the employee’s 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.  An eligible employee may make up to two requests for accommodation per year, but may make additional requests following the birth or adoption of a child and/or an increase in the employee’s caregiving responsibilities for a family member with a serious health condition.  The requested accommodation may take the form of an alternative work schedule, telecommuting, job sharing, part-time work, or any other type of flexible work arrangement. 

The employee’s request must be made in writing, and must detail the accommodation requested and how that accommodation relates to the employee’s caregiving responsibilities.  The request must also state the proposed commencement and duration for the requested accommodation.  An employer who receives a written request must respond both verbally and in writing.  The employer must meet with the employee about the request within 21 days of receiving the request.  The employer thereafter must respond to the request in writing within 21 days, explaining whether the employer will grant or deny the request.  An employer who denies the request must explain, in writing, “bona fide business reasons” for the denial, such as identifiable cost of granting the request (lost productivity, rehiring or retraining costs), negative effect on ability to meet customer demands, inability to meet work demands or transfer work among employees, etc.  If an employee’s request is denied, the employee then has 30 days to seek reconsideration, which requires the employer to again meet with the employee within 21 days and respond in writing thereafter within 21 days.

It is important to appreciate, however, that the ordinance does not require that the employer provide any accommodation.  It simply requires that the employer engage in this communication process.   The ordinance does prohibit employers from restraining, interfering with or retaliating against any exercise of the rights granted by the ordinance.  The ordinance grants enforcement authority to San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which can investigate alleged violations and take administrative and legal action to enforce the ordinance and remedy certain violations.  The ordinance does not provide for a private right of action.  Employers will be required to post mandatory posters (which are not yet published) concerning the new ordinance and will also be required to maintain records of employee requests for 3 years.

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