Recently, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum (“PM”) on Enhancing Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs.  79 Fed. Reg. 36625 (June 27, 2014).  This issuance comes during a recent trend pushing for the passage of several pieces of work and family-related legislature, including the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and a call for continued support for the Affordable Care Act and raising the minimum wage.

The President announced in the PM that “it is the policy of the Federal Government to promote a culture in which managers and employees understand the workplace flexibilities and work-life programs available to them and how these measures can improve agency productivity and employee engagement. The Federal Government must also identify and eliminate any arbitrary or unnecessary barriers or limitations to the use of these flexibilities and develop new strategies consistent with statute and agency mission to foster a more balanced workplace.”

The PM reads very much like a statute, explaining policy, setting out rights and requirements, and listing deadlines for implementation.  Specifically the PM mandates:

  • Section 1: Right to Request Work Schedule Flexibilities.
  • Section 2: Expanding Access to Workplace Flexibilities.
  • Section 3: Expanding Availability and Encouraging Use of Work-Life Programs.
  • Section 4: Helping Agencies Encourage the Use of Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Programs.
  • Section 5: Agency Review of Workplace Flexibilities and Work-Life Policies and Programs.

Generally the PM requires agencies to facilitate conversations about work schedule flexibilities. President Obama calls on each agency to review, amend or establish procedures for work schedule flexibilities within 120 days of the date of the memorandum. So much so is the intent that agency heads are to ensure that workplace flexibilities are available to the “maximum extent practicable.”

Work-life programs, to the “maximum extent practicable: are to include dependent care programs, child care subsidies, emergency child care, and elder care; employee assistance programs, including counseling, resources, and referrals; support for nursing mothers, including worksite lactation support programs and resources; and worksite health and wellness programs, and opportunities to utilize those resources.”

While the PM specifically applies to federal agency employers, private employers that submit bids for federal work or contracting on federal projects may be impacted by what the federal agencies adopt in response.  For instance, federal project agency contacts that in the past may have been accessible five days a weeks, from 9 AM to 5 PM, may no longer be found during those standard hours.  In addition, what the EEOC determines to be “best practices” for federal agencies could be a preview of how it will handle private sector disability claims and charges.