Take Our Daughters to Work, the annual holiday intended to introduce girls to the working world, is back with a first: the boys are invited to come along. “Good.” But as long as we’re opening new ideas, why not give our children something more than fun at the office? Let’s add something both children and parents can really use a work schedule that gives families more time together.

Job sharing, telecommuting, reduced and compressed work week, and flexible time are but a few of the welcome ideas to enter the labor force along with vast numbers of women during the past decade.”These are ideas that many want now and that promise our children more balance in their future work and family life.” The possibilities are endless and the popularity of such arrangements is skyrocketing.

Consider this. According to the Employment Policy Foundation, a substantial number of employees value time as much as money. The Foundation cites a 1995 Penn & Schoen national poll finding that 74 percent of private sector employees favored an option of paid time off in lieu of overtime pay, and that compensatory time was most appealing to women. Robert Half International, a specialist in staffing services, found that a whopping 76 percent of workers were willing to give up rapid career advancement in favor of more flexibility; and the American Management Association discovered that many businesses ranked flexible schedules above stock-options, pay-for-performance and bonuses as effective strategies for employee retention.

The state of Arizona, for one example, has gotten the message. Recognizing labor shortages and competition in employee recruitment and retention, the state widely promotes its Workplace Flexibility Initiatives to attract a talented workforce and, says the state, it works.

Private companies are following suit. Just a cursory search of the Internet produces countless references, discussions and company promotions of flex work. WorkingMother magazine recently highlighted workplace flexibility in the lives of three female employees of the Merck Company. Melinda, a senior manager, doesn’t “have to worry if [she] arrives a few minutes late and…can rearrange [her] schedule to juggle a competing personal claim on her time.” For Marijo, a specialist in human resources, “flexibility is a working reality” of telecommuting for three days a week to be near her daughter. But for Suzette, an hourly wage lab worker, “it’s a different world…we don’t have flexibility.”

Therein lies the dark spot of the flexibility movement. Our own laws actually deny flexibility to hourly wage workers — a huge percentage of the work force. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed in 1938, established the 40-hour workweek along with compensation of covered employees at time-and-a-half for overtime work, strictly computed on a weekly — not pay period — basis. This is the law that prohibits hourly wage earners like Suzette from choosing compensatory time off in place of overtime pay — a law that unyieldingly decrees “the overtime requirement may not be waived by agreement between the employer and employees.”

While denying needed family time to so many workers, others remain free to make choices. According to the FLSA, executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees are exempted from the minimum wage and overtime requirements. Also exempted are outside sales employees, doctors, lawyers, teachers and computer professionals, and some farm workers. Not surprisingly, the exclusion was extended to federal employees.

So here we have it. The higher end of the workforce is free to make arrangements to better balance their work and home lives and the lower end of the workforce is forbidden that privilege by law. Sad to say, there is entrenched opposition to amending the law among unions and others. Sadder still, feminist organizations have allied with unions to block the very changes needed by women like Suzette.

Before the next Take Our Children to Work Day rolls around, why not work on giving all employees more than a working holiday? Let’s act to change the laws that block flexibility in order to give all American workers — present and future — something they can really celebrate.