In Focus

Aug 1, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Paid Leave: A No-Brainer for Businesses and a Lifesaver for Workers

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Could it be that workers whose employers offer leave benefits actually end up getting sick less often because they are happier? Senator Al Franken (D-MN), tongue firmly in cheek, proposed this “radical” idea at a hearing on paid leave held by the Senate Health Economic Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families. Franken’s comments echo all the evidence: paid leave is a no-brainer that benefits both workers and employers. Unfortunately, far too many workers still lack paid leave, including paid sick days and paid family and medical leave.

The hearing, convened by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), drew attention to the dire circumstances facing U.S. workers who need time away from work to welcome a new child, care for a sick loved one, or recover from serious illness. Witnesses testified to the importance of paid leave for families’ economic security, the value to employers of offering such programs, and the growing body of evidence that shows the effectiveness of existing paid leave programs. The critical importance of this issue was evidenced by the attendance of seven senators: Casey (D-PA), Franken (D-MN), Hagan (D-NC), Harkin (D-IA), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), and Warren (D-MA).

Those who oppose paid leave policies often express concern about their effect on businesses. However, testimony from Kevin Trapani, CEO and president of The Redwoods Group, and Maryella Gockel, flexibility leader at Ernst & Young LLP, demonstrates that such worries are misguided. Indeed, for these employers, as well as for businesses in the states that have passed paid family leave insurance laws (California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey), there has been no evidence of what witness Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women & Families called the “parade of horribles”—a litany of negative business implications predicted by critics.

Trapani, whose business offers generous leave benefits, described the importance of meeting his employees’ needs so that they can best  perform important work for clients and the community. Paid leave has been crucial to the well-being of many Redwoods employees, said Trapani. For example, one employee took paid leave to care for his sick father, who lives out of town. He told Trapani, “My dad may not have survived if I hadn’t been here.” And at Redwoods, paid leave doesn’t just benefit  employees grappling with grave personal matters; it pays dividends for  the company’s bottom line. Redwood’s turnover rate for the past 10 years is only 5 percent, generating major  cost savings and increased productivity from a loyal workforce.

Ernst & Young’s Gockel explained how paid leave and other benefits have nearly closed the gap in retention rates between male and female employees at her company; in the mid-90s, she said, women were leaving the company at a much faster rate than men. Beyond the impact of such disparities on women’s ability to advance in their careers, Gockel noted that high rates of turnover are costly. For a mid-level worker, said Gockel, it costs between 1.5 and two times the worker’s annual salary to hire and train a replacement.

Jeannine Sato’s experience, recounted at the hearing, brings the retention and turnover numbers to life. In a previous job, when Sato had her first child, she found that her employer was not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because it had multiple offices that were more than 75 miles apart, meaning the number of employees at each location could not be combined for FMLA eligibility purposes. This obscure provision meant that Sato was not eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the law—and her employer was unwilling to accommodate her needs. As the family breadwinner, she had no choice but to go back to work just six weeks after giving birth. Soon, she was looking for a new job. “Even a big raise couldn’t keep me there,” she said. Sure enough, Sato had found  new employment less than a year later. Workers like Sato offer a lesson to employers about the consequences of not providing paid leave: while it may prevent a valued employee’s temporary absence, it could cause you to lose them permanently.

While some employers haven’t caught on yet, there are many who are aware of the importance of providing paid leave. Unfortunately, despite many high-road employers taking action, others are not in a position to do so because of the financial burden of extended paid leaves. However, legislation introduced in Congress last December would help such well-intentioned employers to do right by their workers. Using small contributions from employers and employees, the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMILY) Act would create a trust fund for workers to draw on when they need to take leave. Such a social insurance program is appealing to workers and employers alike, as evidenced by support from many small businesses and a growing group of diverse business leaders from across the country.

Jul 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Why We Need the Schedules that Work Act: Andrea's Story

By Liz Ben-Ishai

What is it like to have your life consumed by unpredictability and instability? What does it mean to worry about your economic security and your family’s well-being—but have almost no control over the forces that shape them? Many lower-wage workers know exactly what it’s like, as they struggle with job schedules that are extremely volatile, making it difficult to pay the bills, care for children, stay in school—and simply manage life.

Today, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are introducing a bill, the Schedules that Work Act, that could have a profound effect on the lives of workers who must deal with  employers that give them little notice of their job schedules; whose hours and schedules fluctuate from week to week; and who have little predictability, flexibility, and stability.

You can find out about the provisions of the bill here. But to really understand the bill, step into the shoes of a worker who has grappled with the very issues this law would help to address. Andrea, a  former retail worker, knows all too well what it means to have a schedule that doesn’t work. I had the privilege of listening to her story, and she’s allowed me to share it below.

Andrea’s Story*

Andrea, a hard-working single mom to two-year-old Ben, started working in a cosmetics store during the holiday season, when many retail outlets hire additional staff. After the holidays, Andrea was asked to stay on and join the team at the store.

The store’s typical practice is to send out schedules for the week by email on Sunday. This meant that she could be working Monday, but find out about it only the day before. Andrea’s weekly hours fluctuated wildly. One week she’d be scheduled to work 11 hours, the next 42. She was classified as part-time, which meant she was not entitled to overtime. On weekends, she would often be asked to work from 11:00 AM-9:00 PM or 12:00-10:00 PM.

Andrea’s son, Ben, has chronic asthma, so in addition to the typical illnesses that small children get, she had to deal with a more serious health issue that frequently meant he couldn’t go to child care or would be sent home early from child care. On days when Andrea couldn’t go into work, she would be under intense pressure to find someone to cover her shift, or she’d have to ask friends or family to care for a sick Ben. And, when Ben’s child care provider would call to say he needed to be picked up because he was sick, her boss wasn’t very understanding. Rather, Andrea would be punished with extra-long weekend shifts or by being denied requested days off, even when she submitted these requests long in advance—well before schedules had been made.

Read more of Andrea's story >>

Having a fair, reasonable schedule that allows workers to care for their families and pursue higher education shouldn’t be something reserved for those who are lucky enough to have an employer with unusually good practices. Thankfully, Andrea no longer has to deal with the chaos of an unpredictable schedule. It’s time for all workers to be free from the stresses and strains of unfair scheduling practices (not just those who happen to get hired by a particular employer)! That’s why we are thrilled about the introduction of the Schedules that Work Act.

Learn more about the bill >>

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Jul 3, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

On July 4th, Remember our Roots and Provide Sick Days for Immigrant Workers

By Alex Wang

On July 4th, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s important to remember the critical role immigrants have played and continue to play in our collective prosperity. Unfortunately, while immigrant workers make up a growing share of the U.S. labor force, many lack access to labor standards, such as paid sick days, that are critical to job security, public health, and the economy.

A new brief co-authored by CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. This difference is especially pronounced for Hispanic immigrants and lower-wage immigrant workers, particularly those who make less than $35,000 per year. The inability to take even one paid sick day forces workers to choose between their health (or the health of a loved one) and their daily earnings or—in some cases—their jobs.

 Key findings from our report include:

  • Immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Only 54 percent of immigrants have access to sick days, compared to approximately 63 percent of their native-born counterparts.
  • Hispanic immigrants have the least access to sick days relative to all other racial/ethnic groups. On average, only 41 percent of Hispanic immigrants have access to sick days.
  • Asian immigrant women have much lower access to sick days than native born Asian women. Only 64 percent of non-Hispanic Asian immigrant women have access to sick days, versus 75% of native born women.
  • Lower-income immigrant workers who are working full time are less likely to have earned sick days than native-born counterparts at similar income levels. Immigrants with incomes of less than $65,000 per year have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Around 26 percent of immigrant workers making less than $15,000 per year have access to sick days versus almost 36 percent of native-born workers.

Access to paid leave is a key aspect of job quality and compensation that is often overlooked. Given that no national law currently guarantees U.S. workers paid sick days, workers at all wage levels depend on their employers to offer leave voluntarily. While employers of higher-wage workers often do provide leave, low-wage workers are often unable to earn paid sick days, exacerbating income inequalities for those at the bottom.

Fortunately, at the state and local level, there is a growing movement to extend paid sick days access to all workers; to date, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days law. Further, federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced to Congress.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to settle, raise American children, and contribute to our national economy should be guaranteed equal access to benefits. It’s time to act to bring paid sick days—which have widespread public support—to all U.S. workers, especially those who are severely disadvantaged.

Read the brief >>

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