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A new survey out today finds more companies than ever say they offer flexible hours or telecommuting. But San Francisco and Vermont are using the law to push companies to do more for their employees. Starting this year, workers in those two places got the right to ask for a flexible or predictable work schedule.
NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In San Francisco, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, newly married and planning a family, has heard an earful from overwhelmed friends.
DAVID CHIU: Juggling child care and soccer practices and doctors appointments, who want to be really good employees but are having trouble balancing that with their lives.
LUDDEN: Some companies may be helping out, he says, but others are clearly not.
CHIU: We've heard too many stories of workers who have said that there is a significant stigma. And in some circumstances, there have been cases of retaliation against employees that have raised these issues.
LUDDEN: Chiu says he proposed San Francisco's new law to make it easier to ask about flextime, and to ban retaliation for doing so. In Vermont, the right-to-request law was part of a broader package aimed at closing the gender pay gap.
CARY BROWN: Women more frequently than men are taking time off to take care of family responsibilities.
LUDDEN: And Cary Brown, of the Vermont Commission on Women, says a flexible schedule can keep some from cutting back to part time or dropping out of the workforce altogether. The laws are based on similar ones in the U.K., Australia, Germany and elsewhere. A key point, says Brown - companies don't have to say yes.
BROWN: The employer is under no obligation to grant the request for flexible working arrangements. They just have to take it seriously, and respond.
JESSICA GINGRAS: We really feel like this didn't really need to be legislated in Vermont. Employers were kind of already having these conversations.
LUDDEN: Jessica Gingras is with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the law. She agrees flexibility is good for business - productivity and morale go up; turnover, down. But she worried about a one-size-fits-all mandate. Would, say, ski resorts have to let instructors come in late? The Chamber made sure the new law includes a list of reasons businesses might deny a request, like extra cost or a shortage of backup staff.
GINGRAS: We haven't heard from businesses, since the law took effect in January, of anyone who's actually using it. And we really believe that that's kind of a testament to the compromises that we were able to achieve.
LUDDEN: Still, the laws are making a difference for some.
JORGE LOPEZ: I was just like, oh my God, this is so perfect - because I was having such a hard time.
LUDDEN: Jorge Lopez manages loans at a bank in San Francisco. Two years ago, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and Lopez asked to come in and leave work earlier, to care for her.
LOPEZ: My manager was totally OK with it, but upper management was really giving me a hard time. And I almost came to the point that I was gonna quit my job and just get a position closer to home.
LUDDEN: This year, with the new law to back him up, Lopez asked again and this time, it was granted. At least for now, he's working from 6:30 in the morning till 3.
Same story for another woman, who does PR for a San Francisco solar company. With the new law, she says she's finally been allowed to work mostly from home, saving her family thousands on child care.
San Francisco supervisor David Chiu says he expects the legal right to ask for flextime will spread. Other cities are expressing interest. And back in 2007, similar congressional legislation had some high-profile co-sponsors - Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.