President Barack Obama wants more employers to adopt family-friendly, flexible work policies

WASHINGTON (WJLA/AP) - Obviously, being in the D.C. area, there are thousands, if not millions, of federal workers - and many of them have young children.

Problem is, a federal job doesn't always gel well with family life - as local resident and federal worker Ebony Freeman knows all too well.

On Monday, it was a quick lunch for Freeman, who knows that the sooner she gets back to work, the less likely she is to have to work late tonight.

With two small children, finding a work-life balance is a challenge, Freeman says.

"I think all workplaces need to be more progressive. We at the federal government always like to think that the private sector has more options," Freeman told ABC7. "If I had the flexible time to do longer days, then I would jump right on it."

On Monday, President Obama held a summit to encourage more employers to adopt family-friendly policies, even though the U.S. government doesn't always set the best example.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns, although Obama says he'd like to see that change.

"Only three countries in the world report that they don't offer paid maternity leave - three - and the United States is one of them," Obama said in his weekly address. "It's time to change that. A few states have acted on their own to give workers paid family leave, but this should be available to everyone, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for a family member in need."

California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have a system of paid leave, but it's unclear how Obama would fund a national system. Obama has not endorsed legislation that would create one funded by a payroll tax, and he pledged in his 2008 presidential campaign not to raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year.

Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said in a conference call with reporters Sunday that the president is trying to start a national conversation to explore the issue.

"Cost is an issue for any federal program and we need to make sure we do this in a way where we are not raising taxes on middle-class families," she said. "But we also know what a good investment in our workforce it would be if they had paid leave, and that investment will pay great returns."

While some companies offer paid family leave to attract workers, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act only requires that employers provide unpaid leave for medical and family reasons.

When Obama came to the White House, he instituted six weeks of paid leave for his workers when they have a child, get sick or injured or need to care for an ailing family member, using his authority to set his staff's compensation under the personnel code. He does not have the power to award paid leave to other federal workers without congressional action since they are covered under a different section of law. The White House has supported the goal of legislation introduced by lawmakers to change that, but it has yet to get through Congress.

During Monday's summit, President Obama asked the heads of federal agencies to expand federal workplace policies when possible.

"Workers who give their all should know that if they need a little flexibility, they can have it, because their employers understand that its hard to be productive when you have a sick kid at home," he said.

FAA employee Mohamed Elgazar cares for his ailing mother, and said he thinks workplace flexibility would benefit the employer as well as their employee.

"I think it inspires people," he said. "Will they work harder? I think so. Will they work smarter? I think so too."

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media says American companies need to do more to offer employees flexibility.

"That little piece of control that an employee feels adds so much to the benefit for the company, so the employee feels reduced stress," she said.