The Devil is in the Details -- San Francisco's Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance

The Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance (FFWO).  The name sounds wonderful.  Who doesn't want a family friendly workplace?  The goal in life is to be happy.  And we find much of that happiness within the walls of our own homes.  So who wouldn't want to spend more time with family and attend to important caregiving duties? 

Work also brings happiness to many people.  Sure, most of the time work can be monotonous.  But work is also invigorating and exciting.  It allows us to develop skills and competencies.  Work challenges our muscles and our brains.  It's ennobling. 

I, for one, love my job.  But even more than work, I love being home and taking care of my family responsibilities.  So how does a working family member meet his/her responsibilities at work and at home?  In San Francisco, through legislative fiat. 

The City is mandating that businesses of 20 or more employees provide workers with caregiving responsibilities a "flexible or predictable working arrangement to assist with care" for a child, parent or family member with a serious health condition.  Within 21 days of an employee requesting a flexible or predictable working arrangement, an employer must meet with the employee and consider the request.  Possible accommodations can include changing the number of hours an employee must work, the times of work, where the employee reports, work assignments and predictability in a work schedule. 

The employer must also either provide the accommodation or provide, in writing, a "bona fide" reason why the request was denied.  Bona fide reasons include productivity loss, costs of retraining, hiring or transferring employees, detrimental effect on customer demands, or the insufficiency of work. 

There are penalties for the the violation of FFWO.  The City can enforce the ordinance for the employee, seeking backpay, a daily penalty of $50, equitable relief such as reinstatement, and attorneys' fees.  (What would this world be like without laws providing for attorneys' fees to only one side of a lawsuit???) 

There is much more to the law.  You can read it here:  http://sfgsa.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=11033

So what's wrong with the FFWO?  As my law partner, Bob Fishman says, "The devil is in the details."  It's not a heartwarming thought that someone in government will determine whether you, the business owner, had a "bona fide" reason or not for denying the request.  Moreover, this law creates multiple new causes of action on behalf of employees.  FFWO will be another substantial challenge for employers within San Francisco not only in terms of compliance, but also with the litigation that will inevitably result from the enactment of this law.