Being a working mother is a lot like being an acrobat at the circus – and what working mom doesn’t feel like her life is a circus sometimes? You need to have great balance and be able to juggle multiple sharp or flaming objects at once. And having lots of flexibility is a huge plus.
Workplace flexibility enables parents to meet the responsibilities of home and career. It means you can be there when a child is sick or a babysitter cancels or the teacher calls a meeting. (Did you know North Carolina law requires employers to grant workers four hours of leave a year so they can be involved in their children’s schools?)
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina makes Working Mother Magazine’s list of 100 best companies in part because 100% of its employees have flexibility in their work schedules.
But having workplace flexibility that actually works for families is hard to come by if you’re paid by the hour. As Working Mother points out in its article on the best companies for hourly workers, “While many salaried working mothers long for flexible weeks or reduced hours, hourly-working moms wish for more predictable schedules that include enough work time to pay for their families’ needs.”
For the mother who works hourly, schedules can change with little notice. If she is unexpectedly called in to work an extra shift, she may have to scramble for child care or to find someone to take her kid to soccer practice after school. And it’s hard to say no, especially because North Carolina is an employment-at-will state, which means she can easily be fired for not coming in.
Suddenly having a shift cancelled can be even more damaging if she and her family were counting on that money for rent or groceries. For workers in some industries, these last-minute schedule changes happen frequently. As Working Mother reports, “The retail and restaurant industries, in particular, have been known to ramp employees’ hours up and down, often at the last minute, as sophisticated staffing software gets better at predicting the minute-to-minute demand for smoothies or buy-one-get-one-free apparel.”
Hourly work takes the juggling act of the working mother to a new level. Working extra hours may mean increased childcare expenses and the loss of time with family, but it also means more money – especially if she exceeds 40 hours in a week and gets overtime pay. For a parent making $10 or $12 an hour, that boost to time-and-a-half can make a huge difference.
Full-time workers who aren’t eligible for overtime pay often get “comp time” instead – they get no pay for the extra hours they work at the time, but they can use those hours to take time off with pay later. It’s like earning extra leave time.
There are proposals to create a similar “comp time” system for hourly workers. But such a system would only benefit working parents if the decisions—whether to take overtime pay or comp time, when to trade in those comp hours for paid leave—are in the hands of the workers, not the employers. Otherwise, moms and dads will still be vulnerable to the whims of employers. Without control, the comp time can turn out to be nothing more than an interest-free loan to the employer. And if a working mom can’t decide to use that time when she needs it, what good is it to her?
A comp time system would certainly be a better deal for companies, and that might incentivize them to force workers to take comp time instead of overtime pay. And in an employment-at-will state, workers who refuse could find themselves juggling family and unemployment.
The National Partnership for Women and Families does work around a wide range of issues affecting working mothers. You can learn about the proposal for a new comp-time system for hourly workers, as well as their efforts to improve workplace fairness, at their website.