Both inside many companies and at the national level, workers largely have been left to sort these issues out on their own. But some places are beginning to take cues from other countries that have already carried out national policies to protect workers who want more flexible arrangements. Last month, Vermont passed an “equal pay” law that, among other things, provides employees with the right to request flexible working arrangements and protects them from retaliation for asking. The law requires employers to listen to workers’ pleas twice a year, though they aren’t obliged to grant any requests. “This law is modeled after similar laws in the U.K. and Australia,” said Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women , “and we believe it’s the first of its kind in the United States.”

Still, most workers still remain at the mercy of their managers. “It is not systematic and it is not reliable and for a lot of people, it depends on whether your supervisors are sympathetic,” said Ariane Hegewisch , a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “But you have no guarantees.”