California legislators introduced 2,777 bills this legislative session. They talked about being family friendly. They talked about protecting workers. They talked about working moms. They talked about kids and families struggling. All they did was talk. The single most important measure that the legislature could pass, a measure that benefits families, and workers, and moms didn’t even get a hearing. That’s a flexible workweek. Two bills were introduced and neither one even had a hearing during committee.
The flexible workweek is very simple, and most California residents would agree. Employees and employers work together to come up with a strategic solution on a planned work schedule. If an employee wants to take a day off to go with their kids on a field trip they can. Coach the soccer team, easy. Take a three-day weekend, done. All they must do is work more on other days to make up for that time; they don’t have to use vacation time.
There is one problem, California makes this illegal for most workers. If an employee works more than 8 hours and isn’t exempt, the employer must pay them overtime. Many people have been working from home during the pandemic. Their employer doesn’t know if they worked a 12-hour workday so that they could leave early on the next day unless they tell their employer.
One thing that we have all learned in the past 18 months is that we all need to be flexible, both employers and employees. Employers still need to run a business and employees still need to do their jobs. It is incumbent upon our elected officials to provide the necessary tools to allow both of these things to happen.
The fact that the bills didn’t even get a hearing is even more offensive when you take into consideration that they also didn’t receive an analysis. No one did a report. No one came up with a list of the ways it would be good or even bad for employees. No one determined the costs. Moreover, the legislature exempts their employees from the same laws that California employers must follow. So, their employees get a flexible workweek if they want.
Another issue that some elected officials seem to think will help employees but instead will give them less flexibility is being called the “fair workweek.” This proposal at the Los Angeles City Council would require employers to provide employees with their schedules two weeks in advance. If an employer needs an employee to work or not work after giving them their schedule the employer must pay the employee extra.
Employers will become less flexible. Last minute changes by an employee to go to their kids’ school or to leave early will be rejected because the employer will be penalized for bringing in a replacement. Moreover, the industries that need the most flexibility are hotels, retail, and restaurants. The industries that can least plan two weeks in advance.
If we have learned anything in the past 18 months, it is that we need to be flexible as employers and as employees. These two measures can either provide it or take it away.
Stuart Waldman is President of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.