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Lawmakers to tackle work/life balance

Lawmakers to tackle work/life balance

WORKING FAMILIES:U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House about the Iraq situation in Washington June 19. Obama is hosting a working families summit on Monday at the White House. /Kevin Lamarque

By Mark Felsenthal

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 give workers more leeway in determining their schedules.

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 will be issued as 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. Republicans have said the proposals would hurt jobs, but Obama, who is seeking to boost Democratic fortunes before the midterm elections in November, argues the measures would help the economy.

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 Labor will make $25 million available to provide childcare for workers in training programs.

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.

Administration officials said they hope the conference, which will include participation from the private sector and labor unions, will draw attention to family-friendly practices that have been good for businesses as well as employees.

While employers often cite the costs of providing such benefits as an obstacle, the White House said many companies have found that by accommodating workers’ family needs, they retain employees longer and recruit better workers.

“Research has shown that companies who adopt family-friendly policies are more profitable and that these policies are good for their competitiveness,” the White House said in a statement.

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

While the U.S. economy has shown signs of recovery since the recession ended in 2009, with unemployment at a five-and-a-half year low of 6.3 percent in May, those gains are tempered by concerns over a 62.8 percent labor force participation rate – the lowest rate in 36 years.

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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