Q: Do I have a right to a flexible schedule because I’m a parent?
“The employer doesn’t have to allow flexible work for a caregiver,” said Liz Morris, an employment law expert and deputy director at the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings Law. But employers must offer parents the same workplace flexibility they afford to non-parents under family responsibilities discrimination laws that are on the books in 195 U.S. state and local jurisdictions, she said.
She offered an example for the pandemic: “If a mother is being told they can’t stay home, but other people are being allowed to continue working from home, that could be illegal, especially if it’s based on unfounded assumptions that mothers are going to put their jobs second, and they can’t be trusted to do their work if their children are around.”
Q: How do I make sure my career and authority aren’t sidelined while I’m working remotely?
“Be very explicit about your career goals and aspirations,” Dr. Cooper said. When women are of childbearing age or have children, for example, there’s often an assumption they’re going to de-prioritize their career to focus on their family, she said. “One way to counteract those assumptions and biases is to say: ‘Here’s my plan for the next three years, and I’m eager to work on these kinds of projects.’ This is a way to push back on assumptions people may not even realize they have about you.”
Q: I’m allowed to work from home, but most of my team will be in the office. How do I show that I’m working hard?
“What you are trying to prevent is a perception that you are contributing less, which can happen when you’re working flexibly,” Dr. Cooper said. “To counteract that, keep a list of what you’re working on and regularly communicate that to your team members and manager. If managers have your accomplishments top of mind, that’s what they’re going to filter into their assessments.”
Q: If my children have to quarantine at home, or school closes, what’s the best way to ask for a schedule change?
Say it straight, Dr. Cooper said: “This is a public health emergency beyond my control, so here’s what I can do given these constraints, and let’s work together to figure out a way through it.”
Remember that there’s nothing wrong with asking for flexibility, especially if you lay out the facts. At the same time, be mindful of how your employer may respond, and document your conversations when possible in time-stamped emails. Laws in only three U.S. states and six cities provide protection against retaliation when an employee requests a schedule change, Ms. Dinan said. And a recent survey conducted by A Better Balance and the New York City Comptroller found that caregivers earning less than $50,000 per year were twice as likely to experience retaliation after requesting flexibility from their employers as those making more than $100,000.
Q: Am I entitled to time off if I or my child gets sick?
In addition to any sick leave you have, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible workers 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave if they or a family member has a serious health condition. You cannot use F.M.L.A. time to stay home to avoid contracting Covid-19 or to care for healthy children affected by school closures.
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