Obama Focuses on Work-and-Family Issues

By Bill Leonard Jun 26, 2014
During the White House Summit on Working Families, President Barack Obama unveiled on June 23, 2014, a set of steps his administration will take to help improve the economic security of working families and ease the stresses U.S. workers face in juggling time to work and to provide dependent care. Business leaders and workers from around the country joined with administration officials and workforce advocates for the daylong event in Washington, D.C., to discuss the challenges of working parents.

“Too often these issues are thought of as women’s issues,” the president said during his speech at the summit. “But anything that makes life harder for women, makes life harder for families, and makes life harder for children.”

The president then outlined a new set of proposals designed to increase workplace flexibility, improve early childhood education and provide equal access to benefits for same-sex married couples. In addition, the president said his administration would renew a push to enact laws that guarantee workers paid parental leave.

“There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us,” Obama said. “And that is not the list you want to be on. It’s time to change that.”

To put his proposals into motion within the federal government, Obama signed a presidential memorandum for enhancing workplace flexibilities and work/life programs. In the memorandum, the president directs all federal agencies to review their programs and report on best practices and any barriers to their use.

In addition, the memorandum clarifies that federal workers have the right to request flexible work arrangements without fear of retaliation. It instructs federal agencies to establish procedures for addressing employees’ flexible work requests.

The memorandum also sets a goal for developing training programs on the effective use of flexible workplace options for all federal supervisors and workers. Under the presidential initiative, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is instructed to create a new Workplace Flexibility Index that will be published online and updated annually to measure agencies’ success.

In addition to the memorandum, the president urged Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The proposed legislation would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers who have limitations from pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions (unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer). If enacted, the bill also would prohibit employers from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave if a reasonable accommodation would allow them to work.

“Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth—now that’s a pretty low bar,” Obama said. “We should be able to take care of this and help American workers take better care of their families.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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