Obama seeks to expand flex-time for government workers

Hopes to eliminate fear of negative career consequences for flex work

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Barack Obama, as part of efforts to make the U.S. workplace more accommodating for employees with families, will on Monday direct federal agencies to step up efforts to give workers more leeway in determining their schedules.

Obama, who is seeking to boost Democratic fortunes before the midterm elections in November, has been urging Congress to back legislation to make workplaces more "family friendly."

The president will issue a memorandum requiring federal agency heads to expand flexible workplace policies as much as possible, the White House said in a statement. The goal is to make it easier for parents or workers to take care of family needs and to enable more people to find and keep jobs.

Obama will also make clear that federal workers may request a flexible work arrangement without fear it will subject them to negative consequences in the workplace, whether the request is granted or not, the White House said.

The announcements are part of the White House's "summit on working families," where Obama will promote policies such as raising the minimum wage and expanding access to childcare.

"Unlike every other advanced country on Earth, we've sort of said this is something that individual families should deal with on their own instead of all of us as a community, as a nation," Obama said in an interview with MSNBC.

In an interview with CNN, he said the event was not just about promoting ideas that are popular with women, who make up a big part of the Democratic base, ahead of November midterms.

"It's personal for me, and it's personal for a lot of people," he said, describing how he was raised by a single mother and how he and his wife, Michelle Obama, struggled to juggle work and family when their teen daughters were younger.

The president will further push for additional protections for pregnant women in the workplace by urging Congress to pass legislation preventing discrimination against expecting mothers, the White House said. The Department of Labour will make US$25 million available to provide childcare for workers in training programs.

"We don't do a very good job providing high quality, affordable childcare," he told CNN.

Faced with a Republican-led House of Representatives, the president's chances of passing legislation are slight. He has declared that he will pursue his agenda through unilateral actions such as executive orders and official memos.

Obama said the summit will highlight family leave policies that major employers like Deloitte and Google have instituted, such as paid family leave.

"We're the only advanced country on earth that doesn't have it. It doesn't make any sense," he told CNN.

The administration last week released a report showing that the United States could boost its sagging labour force participation rate and get more people back to work if more businesses had policies such as paid maternity and paternity leave.

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