By Congresswoman Mimi Walters
As our children grow, our parents age and we become more involved in our communities, our personal and work lives become more difficult to manage. It’s time to change the way we work so we can better balance our personal and professional responsibilities. Last fall, I introduced the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, also known as “Workflex,” a modern, innovative approach to help hard-working Americans find that balance.
Since coming to Congress in 2015, I’ve met with thousands of constituents who have told me their personal stories. One constant I hear is that people want a better work-life balance. As a mother of four, I can relate to the struggles of balancing a career and raising children.
Prior to joining the California State Legislature in 2004, I was a working mom for many years. Being elected to state office required weekly travel between Sacramento and Orange County, California, which meant my husband had to take on a greater role in raising the kids while working full-time. But these challenges aren’t limited to parents and families.
We can all relate to the difficulty of finding time to take care of personal responsibilities, like going to medical appointments. Everyone needs to take care of his or her health, but often, making an appointment is pushed aside because work gets in the way. Many of us have aging parents, some of whom need our assistance with errands, doctor’s visits and other appointments. Others want to help our communities through volunteer work, and some want to start an online business.
The evolution of the way we work and live means employees are increasingly asking their employers for flexible work arrangements. A 2016 study found that 42 percent of employees have to arrange for childcare and 31 percent expect they will have to provide elder care within the next five years. The same study states that over 44 percent of employees face work-family conflicts. A second study found that nearly 40 percent of employers said employee retention is driven by their flexible work scheduling options.
Workflex is comprised of two parts: paid leave and workflex options. When an employer opts into this program, both full- and part-time employees will receive both paid leave and workflex options, which will allow employees to tailor their work schedule around their professional and personal lives.
Paid leave, the first component of this bill, would be offered to all employees who work for an employer that opts in to Workflex. The amount of paid leave an employee receives is scaled to the size of the employer and an employee’s tenure with the employer. Part-time employees would receive a proportional share of paid leave. To date, most paid leave discussions have centered around time off for new parents. This bill is unique in that it recognizes that all employees have personal responsibilities and may need time off or flexible work arrangements to meet the unique demands of their lives.
The second component requires participating employers to offer at least one of six workflex options, such as telework or flexible scheduling. An employee’s participation in any workflex option would be voluntary and they can discontinue use of a workflex option at any time. If employees prefer to maintain a traditional work schedule, they may continue to do so without fear of retribution from their employers. Importantly, under this bill, employers cannot force employees to participate in a workflex option. That decision is left up to the employee who knows what type of schedule is best for them.
Workflex benefits give employees the ability to consistently plan for standing appointments, while paid leave allows them to tend to unexpected life events. Further, Workflex improves workplace efficiency and productivity, while providing employees with the added benefit of working for an employer who understands their needs.
I’m working closely with my colleagues on this important legislation that will provide hard-working Americans the flexibility they need to best balance their personal and work responsibilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Congresswoman Walters represents California’s 45th Congressional district, which includes the cities of Irvine, Tustin and Mission Viejo. She is serving her second term and is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the House Ethics Committee.