Articles Posted in Women, Wellness, & Work-Life Balance

Traveling for work has its pros and cons.  I spent the last two weeks in sunny Santa Monica, California.  I was there to take multiple depositions in an expedited proceeding, which meant that I escaped my hotel room / conference room for a combined total of approximately 4 hours over a 14-day period.  In fact, I didn’t leave my hotel room or the conference room from which we were working at all until Day 4, when I took the extreme liberty of walking to the beach and back.  (Picture below).  I was out of the room for about 10 minutes-I didn’t even put my toes in the sand for fear that I’d never return to the room.

Two weeks felt like a long time to be away from home.  But it also felt like a long time to be away from my regular work routine.  In particular, my email Inbox expanded beyond my normal comfort level, as I prioritized the case that required my attention the most.Sunny Santa Monica

It wasn’t until late in the evening that I was able to make meager headway in responding to emails I’d received for other matters.  But, had it not been for those late-night (and, sometimes, very early morning) email binges, I would never have been able to get caught up upon my return.  I also would have had some very unhappy clients, who require their lawyer’s prompt attention to deal with emergency issues as they arise.

Earlier this month, the President proclaimed October 2012 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The observance is intended to raise awareness about disability employment issues and to celebrate the contributions of our country’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”

In conjunction with NDEAM, he U.S. Department of Labor has launched an online Workplace Flexibility Toolkit to “provide employees, job seekers, employers, policymakers and researchers with information, resources and a unique approach to workplace flexibility.”

According to the U.S. DOL, the toolkit “points visitors to case studies, fact and tip sheets, issue briefs, reports, articles, websites with additional information, other related toolkits and a list of frequently asked questions. It is searchable by type of resource, target audience and types of workplace flexibility, including place, time and task.”

Health-and-wellness benefits are all the rage. Some employers offer their employees a discount on gym memberships. Some offer a monthly stipend to be used towards the fees at a health-club. And some have an on-site fitness center.

Employers who are considering building an on-site fitness center for employees commonly want to know how they can protect themselves against a personal-injury lawsuit. For example, an employee drops a dumbbell on his foot and breaks a toe. (Don’t laugh, people, broken toes are brutal!)

What’s to stop the employee from suing his employer for his injury? Assuming that lifting weights is not part of the employee’s job, it would not have been an injury incurred in the “course and scope” of his employment and, therefore, would not be covered by workers’ comp. And you, dear employer, own the equipment, including the dumbbell, so you’d surely be the first defendant to be named.

I’m working from home today but not by choice. Our office is quasi-closed today as a result a water main break just a few blocks away from our building in Wilmington, as shown in the video below by 6abc.

Of course, just because I can’t go to the office to work doesn’t mean I get to take the day off–the work still must be done. In the era of mobile computing and the paperless office, this does not present much of a technological challenge. I have ready access to everything I would have access to if I were sitting at my desk. Well, everything but my multiple-monitor computer set-up, I suppose.

But I digress. Which brings me back to my original point.

A law first proposed by the late Senator Ted Kennedy has been resurrected and introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The law mirrors legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in March 2009 which, to date, has gone  nowhere. Premised on the purported need of employees to have more flexible work options, it authorizes an employee to request from an employer a change in the terms or conditions of the employee’s employment if the request relates to: (1) the number of hours the employee is required to work; (2) the times when the employee is required to work; or   (3) where the employee is required to work.Juggle work and home with red hands

The proposal does not require the employer to grant any requests, but does set forth employer duties with respect to such requests, and makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with any rights provided to an employee under the Act. Under regulations to be promulgated by the Secretary of Labor, an employer would have to hold a meeting with the requesting employee and give the employee a written decision on the request, discussing the reason for any rejection and addressing a prescribed list of possible explanations. An employee would be entitled to request reconsideration and the employer would be required to provide a written response to that request as well. In short, it would create an unnecessary paperwork nightmare.

The proposed law also authorizes an employee to file a complaint with the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration of the Department of Labor for any alleged violations of rights, and provides for the investigation and assessment of civil penalties or the award of relief for alleged violations.

How important is office space to employees?  Very important, apparently, according to this article discussing a “summer office swap” conducted at a Boston-area advertising agency.  During the summer months at this forward-thinking firm, nearly every employee switches office space based on a lottery system.

There were a small number of managers with offices, and regardless of how high their pick was, they could not keep an office. However, who did get the office appeared to depend on an elaborate bartering system, which resulted in more lowly office types offering services such as babysitting, car washing, and coffee retrieval in exchange for a seat in a coveted manager office.clip_image002

The article is a good reminder of how important office space is to employees. More than a few employment discrimination lawsuits have been based, in part, on the office (or cubicle) an employee is assigned to.

Utah was the first (and only) state in the U.S. to move to a mandatory four-day workweek.  Under the system, which was implemented by former Gov. Jon Huntsman in 2008, almost all state employees were converted to a schedule of four, 10-hour days per week.  As readers of this blog may recall, I have not been the biggest proponent of the four-day workweek.  See The Cons of a 4-Day Workweek.  

But not everyone agreed.  In fact, for a while, the compressed-week schedule was very, very popular and local governments around the country began to initiate pilot groups to test it.  These efforts were supported by announcements that the Utah program was generating lots of savings for the State and lauded as an official “success.” 

Well, as it turns out, Utah may have been wearing rose-colored glasses when it made the “success” determination, according to a recent audit. The State admitted that it had not seen the reduced energy costs that it had hoped for (realizing only about $500,000 in savings in the first year, as compared to the expected $3 million).  But the audit says it goes a bit deeper, finding that the State overestimated how much money it saved in saved overtime and other costs.  In fairness to the Utah program, though, employee surveys do indicate that employees prefer the four-day workweek, so there must be some supporters. 

The trial in a class-action lawsuit alleging that Novartis Pharmaceuticals practiced sex discrimination against female employees has begun in a federal court in New York. The class of plaintiffs includes more than 5,600 saleswomen, who are seeking $200 million in damages. According to the New York Times, the suit alleges discriminatory pay and promotions targeting women, particularly pregnant ones.

It remains to be seen if the plaintiffs will be able to prove their case, but the allegations include some pretty shocking (and dumb) comments by managers, including my favorite, in which a manager reportedly told a saleswoman that he preferred not to hire young women, saying, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes flex time and a baby carriage.”

As we’ve long known, flexible schedules can play an important-often critical-role in work-family balance. Without the option, many women report they would not return to the workplace (at least for some period of time following their maternity leave) after having a new child. But the fact the option exists on the company books does not necessarily mean it’s an appealing one: in many workplaces they are offered, but not widely utilized because of the stigma associated with them. Other employees take advantage of them, but understand they’re a “career killer.” If the reported comment by a Novartis manager is true, it reveals a far more sinister possibility: the mere existence of flexible schedules may result in women being discriminated against from the outset, based on fear that they might actually use them.

The Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau released its list of the 20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women.  The data supports stereotypes such as “nursing is a woman’s job” and “all secretaries are female.”  There were some jobs, though, that I was surprised to learn are largely held by women, including customer-service representatives and accountants and auditors.  Here are the other 18 jobs and the percentage of each held by women, according to the DOL:


Secretaries and administrative assistants 


Registered nurses


Elementary and middle school teachers




Nursing, psychiatric, and home-health aides


Retail salespersons


First-line supervisors/managers  of retail sales workers


Waiters and waitresses


Maids and housekeeping cleaners


Customer service representatives


Childcare workers


Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks


Receptionists and information clerks


First-line supervisors/managers of office and admin support


Managers, all others


Accountants and auditors


Teacher assistants




Office clerks, general


Personal and home care aides


See the original:

20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women Fact Sheet  at the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau website.

Workplace flexibility has been a hot topic, a highlight of which was President Obama’s White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, televised earlier this week. The forum was designed as an opportunity for labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners, and policy experts to share their ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for workers and their families. During the conference, the President compared flexible work schedules to the early stages of email: some companies have it, some don’t, but eventually, all companies will. Get ready employers – if you haven’t gotten aboard yet, the train may run you over!

Juggle work and home workplace flexibility

With healthcare out of the way, the administration is freed up to focus on other priorities. During the campaign, then-candidate Obama included work-life issues as an important part of his agenda, committing to expand FMLA, to prevent caregiver discrimination, and to offer incentives to employers to expand flexible work arrangements.  The forum indicates  that work-life issues remain a focus of this administration. Although the Obamas now have a personal chef, chauffeurs, and other assistance to make their “balance” a little easier, I am sure that Michelle’s experience managing a demanding career and raising her two girls has helped to ensure this issue remains on the President’s radar screen.

The discussion has taken different varied focuses over the years, but the bottom line is this: for many reasons, in order to retain employees in the modern workforce, employers have to reinvent the old model of an ideal worker. Flexible work schedules are over and over again focused on as the reasonable way to accommodate the needs of both employer and employee. The impetus for employers to engage in this discussion has  evolved a bit over the years.

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