Men, Women, and Their Employers Would Benefit From Working Together to Arrange Flexible Workplace Policies

Over the last 50 years, the American workforce and demographics have shifted tremendously; it's a shift as great as the difference between Ozzie and Harriet and Modern Family.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than 70 percent of children are raised in families that are headed by either a working single parent or two working parents. According to a study last month from Pew Research, "breadwinner moms" are the sole or primary provider in more than four in ten households with children under age 18.

And more of those parents are also caring for older relatives, as medical advances extend life expectancy. A 2009 report from the National Alliance for Caregiving found that almost 60 percent of those who provide unpaid care to an adult or to a child with special needs are employed themselves. These often-competing needs mean more workers are looking for ways to balance their responsibilities, such as driving to doctors' appointments, physical therapy, or just food shopping.

Flexible work arrangements are one way to help workers do that, which is why I and Sen. Bob Casey are introducing the Flexibility for Working Families Act today.

This legislation guarantees employees the right of an employee to request flexible work arrangements in terms of hours, schedules, and work location, and provides employers with flexibility by encouraging them to review these requests, propose changes, and even deny them if they are not in the best interest of the business. Such voluntary arrangements between employees and employers include changing the time, amount, and/or place that work is conducted in order to allow workers to more easily meet the needs of both work and family life.

Similar "right to request" laws have successfully increased productivity, attendance and overall job satisfaction in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

Studies such as the Workplace Flexibility 2010 initiative have shown that these voluntary arrangements boost employees' satisfaction and their physical and mental health, as well as improve businesses bottom line by helping to reduce turnover, cut absenteeism, and improve productivity. Furthermore, President Obama's Council on Economic Advisors found that as more firms adopt flexibility practices, the benefits to society, in the form of reduced traffic, improved employment outcomes, and more efficient allocation of workers to employers, may be greater than the gains to individual firms and workers.

Last month, the House GOP put forward a bill that would provide only employers with flexibility -- and take away the rights of workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act that provides guaranteed time off. Passed on a party-line vote, such top-down legislation ignores the realities of the modern workforce. The true intent of the Republican bill is shrouded in a worker-friendly title -- "The Working Families Flexibility Act" -- so do not be deceived.

The good news is that for the past 38 months, the U.S. has seen continuous job growth and the unemployment rate has dropped to 7.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite these improvements, it's important that this workforce have options such as flexibility to help them handle the demands of work and family. Such policies are a win-win for business and workers.