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Navigating Flexible Working Arrangements: Can Your Request Be Denied?

In today’s fast-paced world, balancing work and family responsibilities is a significant challenge, especially for working parents. California, known for its progressive labor laws, offers a variety of rights and protections to employees seeking flexible working arrangements. 

However, these regulations only help you if you understand and exercise them. Let’s take an in-depth look at how working parents in California can navigate these options to achieve a healthier work-life balance.

California’s Legal Framework for Flexible Working

In California, several laws and regulations govern flexible working arrangements. Notable among these are:

  • Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): While FEHA primarily addresses discrimination, it indirectly supports flexible working conditions by ensuring employees are not discriminated against due to familial responsibilities. It prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status. Employers cannot treat employees less favorably because of their responsibilities as parents. For example, an employer cannot deny a promotion or flexible working request simply because an employee has children.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA): This act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons, which can include the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. This leave can be used intermittently and can be combined with flexible working arrangements for a phased return to work. While not directly about flexible working hours, it supports work-life balance for parents.
  • San Francisco’s Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance: Unique to San Francisco, this ordinance allows employees in companies with 20 or more employees to request flexible or predictable working arrangements to assist with caregiving responsibilities. Employers are required to consider these requests and can only refuse them for legitimate business reasons.

These laws protect workers from discrimination based on family responsibilities and provide certain entitlements for parental leave and flexible work requests. Some of the most important protections they offer include:

Right to Request Flexible Working

Under the laws above, employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements if they qualify for accommodations or if their employer grants flexible schedules to other people in similar roles. For example, if an employer gives one employee the option to work from home two days a week, it must grant a working parent employee with the same duties the same option. Such arrangements help working parents manage childcare, reduce commuting time, and address other personal responsibilities.

Employers are required to consider employee requests for flexible arrangements seriously and can only refuse them for legitimate business reasons. Doing otherwise may constitute workplace discrimination. The process often involves a discussion between the employee and employer to find a mutually agreeable solution. This collaborative approach is encouraged to ensure that both parties’ needs are met.

Options for Flexible Work Arrangements

Depending on your circumstances and your employer’s policies, you may have several options for non-traditional work schedules and arrangements, such as:

  • Telecommuting as a Flexible Option: Telecommuting or remote work has become increasingly popular and viable due to technological advancements. California employers are increasingly adopting telecommuting policies that allow employees to work from home, benefiting working parents by eliminating commute time and providing greater flexibility in managing home responsibilities.
  • Part-Time Work and Job Sharing: Part-time work or job sharing are other flexible options that can be ideal for working parents. These arrangements involve working fewer hours than a full-time schedule or sharing a full-time job with another employee. While these options may impact benefits and salary, they offer greater time flexibility.
  • Compressed Workweeks: A compressed workweek allows employees to work their usual number of hours over fewer days. For example, an employee might work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. This arrangement gives parents an extra day each week to spend with their children or attend to personal matters.

The best option depends on your family’s needs and your employer’s scheduling policies. In general, you have a stronger case for requesting working arrangements that the company has already granted to other employees since it will need to justify why those workers qualify for alternative schedules, and you do not. 

Is It Discrimination If Your Employer Denies Your Request for a Flexible Working Arrangement?

Determining whether the denial of a flexible work arrangement request constitutes discrimination in California requires examining the specific circumstances of the case and the reasons for the employer’s decision. If you think your denial was discriminatory, you should talk to an experienced employment law attorney about your situation. Your attorney will help you evaluate the following factors to help you determine if it was discriminatory:

  • Reason for Denial: If the denial is based on legitimate business reasons, such as undue hardship, inability to reorganize work among existing staff, or significant detrimental effect on business operations, it may not be considered discriminatory. However, if the denial is based solely on the employee’s status as a parent, it might be discriminatory.
  • Consistency in Policy Application: If the employer consistently allows flexible work arrangements for other employees without caregiving responsibilities but denies them to parents, this could be indicative of discrimination.
  • Documentation and Dialogue: The way the employer handles the request and communicates the decision can also be relevant. Proper documentation of the reasons for the denial and an open dialogue with the employee are important.
  • Case Law: Your attorney will help you find any relevant California case law that guides how similar situations have been handled in the past.
  • Employer Policies: The employer’s policies and past practices regarding flexible work arrangements also play a role. A pattern of denying such requests only to working parents could be problematic.

Suppose your employer has denied you alternative work arrangements and cannot present a justifiable business reason or violated its policies. In that case, you have a strong argument that the denial is discriminatory. 

Professional Legal Counsel for Working Parents in California

As a working parent in California, navigating flexible working arrangements is a crucial aspect of balancing work and family life. If your request for alternative arrangements was denied, you may have other options. If you believe you are facing discrimination for requesting accommodations like an alternative work schedule, you should talk to an experienced employment law attorney at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP. We can help you determine if you’ve suffered from discrimination and represent you during legal action if necessary. 

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