Are you afraid to ask for flexible work arrangements to deal with family issues? Or, do you think your employees aren’t forthcoming about their work-life needs; and if they are do you worry requests for alternative work schedules could impact the bottom line?

Discussions about using flexibility in order to make work “work” better for employees and employers can be difficult and that’s why some people try to avoid them. But what if you were forced to sit down and talk?

One politician in San Francisco – David Chiu, the city’s Board of Supervisors’ President — decided employees and employers needed a “nudge,” so he introduced an ordinance to mandate such conversation, an ordinance that recently passed and goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. And the new edict is being closely watched by municipalities, and by employers, beyond the City by the Bay.

“This is starting a discourse,” said Enzo Der Boghossian, a partner at employment law firm Proskauer’s California office. “This is going to be a great exercise, a social experiment.”

Indeed, other towns are considering getting in on the experiment. “We have heard from administrations of mayors in other major cities about doing the same thing in their cities,” Catherine Rauschuber, Chiu’s legislative aide, told me last week. She declined to disclose which cities have reached out.

San Francisco is the first city to pass such an ordinance. Vermont passed a similar law earlier this year that also kicks in the first of the year; a law Rauschuber said the city’s ordinance was partly based on. The legislative team, she added, also used as a framework the late Ted Kennedy’s Working Families Flexibility Act, which would have ensured employees’ right to request flexible work arrangements.

Comparable federal legislation was introduced by ‘congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-14) in 2009, and was most recently referred to subcommittee last year.

Der Boghossian doesn’t expect movement toward passing such a law on the federal level any time soon, but he believes many city governments will be watching San Francisco to see how the ordinance plays out and follow suit if things go well.

In order to enforce the law, he explained, “It’s going to take a lot of manpower.” And with so many local governments strapped for resources, he’s doubtful any city will be able to enforce such an edict effectively.

He does, however, expect the ordinance to trigger many requests by employees. (more…)