In Focus

Feb 24, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Inequities in Paid Sick Days Access, “No-Fault” Attendance Policies Show Need for Public Policy

By Liz Ben-Ishai

According to a new analysis of the 2014 National Study of Employers, many workers whose companies offer paid sick days still face barriers to access. The report, co-authored by Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) as part of their joint When Work Works project, finds that many firms exclude part-time workers from their paid sick time policies and some impose unfair and counterproductive “no-fault attendance policies.”

These findings illustrate the need for continued efforts to pass paid sick days legislation at the local, state, and federal levels. While voluntary employer action is valuable, the absence of public policy often leads to exclusion of the most vulnerable workers. Paid sick days laws have now passed in 17 cities and 3 states. The new study from FWI and SHRM demonstrates the urgent need to build on this momentum.

Although many employers report that they provide paid sick time to most of their employees, few extend this crucial labor standard to all employees. The study, which surveyed over 1,000 employers with 50 or more employees, found that less than half—41 percent—offered all employees with at least one year on the job access to paid sick days. Another 46 percent said they offered most employees with one year of tenure paid sick days. (These numbers vary slightly for employers with paid time off (PTO) policies, which aggregate all forms of leave. Among employers with PTO, about half extend the policy to all workers.)

Among those without paid sick days, a high percentage are part-time workers. Less than a quarter of employers offer sick time to part-time salaried workers and just over a quarter offer it to part-time hourly workers. About one-third of employers offer PTO to part-time workers. This trend is especially disturbing given the increasing number of workers who hold multiple part-time jobs (1.76 million in 2007, compared to 1.96 million in 2014). Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that involuntary part-time work—workers who take part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work—also remains high despite the recovery. This has severe consequences, according to the report. Part-time employees with no sick time “may find it a challenge to care for themselves when they are sick or to attend to other personal and family responsibilities without risking a significant portion of their income, either through hours unworked or the risk of losing one or more of their jobs.”

A growing number of state and local laws, as well as proposed federal legislation, allow part-time workers to accrue sick leave at the same rate per hour of work as their full-time counterparts. And there is ample evidence that these laws are working. An evaluation of Seattle’s paid sick and safe time ordinance found that 78 percent of employers in the food and accommodation sector offered part-time workers paid sick and safe time one year after implementation of the law. In contrast, just 14 percent of those employers were providing paid sick and safe time to their workers previously. (It’s worth noting that 100 percent of these employers are required to offer sick time, so while 78 percent is an improvement, it signals a need for continued employer outreach and enforcement of the law.)

Other features of public policy approaches to sick days distinguish the experience of those protected by law from those who have access to sick days at their employer’s discretion. While the survey includes employers with 50 or more employees, most paid sick time laws apply to employees at smaller firms, with the minimum size varying depending on jurisdiction. In addition, the survey asks about employees with one year tenure; however, under all the existing laws, tenure requirements to accrue and use sick time are considerably shorter. Finally, under most existing laws, employers are permitted to use a PTO plan, so long as the plan is otherwise in compliance with legal requirements. Consequently, companies with PTO would not be subject to an extra burden if a paid sick days law passed in their jurisdiction.

In addition to part-time worker exclusions, the new survey data expose punitive “no-fault” attendance policies. Some employers—even those with sick time policies—penalize workers who take sick days for legitimate reasons, including unexpected illnesses or medical appointments. Workers can be subject to disciplinary action when they accumulate a designated number of absences, regardless of the reasons.  According to the study, 13 percent of employers have both no-fault attendance policies and paid sick days policies. Among those with no-fault policies, more than one-third consider paid absences  covered under their sick days policies to be “unexcused.” A day to recover from the flu or care for a sick child may be compensated, but it could still lead to job loss.

Thankfully, these harmful policy contradictions are typically not allowed in jurisdictions with paid sick time laws. Provisions of the laws explicitly ban employers from applying “no-fault” attendance policies to paid sick time and/or prohibit retaliation against workers. 

The FWI, SHRM, and WWW study highlights the fact that some employers voluntarily allow their employees to earn paid sick days. This is good news. However, this new study and national data make clear that voluntary employer action is not enough. With just four in ten employers reporting that they have sick days policies covering all their employees, too many workers are being left behind.

Fortunately, there is a path forward. State and local bills that would protect workers’ rights are moving across the country. And at the federal level, the Healthy Families Act (H.R.932/S.497) was recently reintroduced. If passed, this law would enable millions of workers to earn paid sick time, accruing one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked—regardless of whether  the worker is full- or part-time. Moreover, the Healthy Families Act includes a provision that deems penalizing workers for paid or unpaid sick time under a “no-fault” attendance policy (or similar policy) to be interference with the workers’ rights. It’s critical that we continue the legislative momentum on sick days at all levels of government to ensure every worker is treated fairly.

Feb 13, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Persistence Pays Off for Earned Sick Days Advocates; State, Local Momentum Driving National Action

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

State and local momentum in the earned sick days movement is driving progress at the national level. This was clearly illustrated on February 12 when Philadelphia  became the 21st jurisdiction to pass an earned sick days law and the federal Healthy Families Act (HFA) was reintroduced in Congress by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Rosa DeLauro. Both moments were emblematic of the persistence of the sick days movement, which has enjoyed numerous successes recently. Philadelphia advocates will finally see their bill become law after two previous mayoral vetoes. And as Rosa DeLauro noted at a Capitol press conference, it’s been 11 years since she first introduced HFA alongside Senator Edward Kennedy.

The Capitol room was packed with earned sick days supporters, reporters, and Congressional staff as Members of Congress, advocates, and business leaders discussed the importance of earned sick days. At some point in his or her remarks, each speaker shared the same important message: no worker should have to choose between her family’s health or her own health and her economic security. Yet far too many workers lose jobs and wages because they lack access to paid leave. CLASP’s new brief, Wages Lost, Jobs at Risk, highlights data on this disturbing trend. The Healthy Families Act would relieve millions of workers of this horrible choice, which is really no choice at all.

One of the biggest accomplishments of our movement is the growing business support for earned sick days. Today, more than 340 employers have signed on in support of state and local earned sick days campaigns; many of them also support a federal minimum standard. At the press conference, Dana Zemel, people operations coordinator at Blue Bottle Coffee, a thriving business and ardent supporter of fair workplaces, shared why her company sees earned sick days as a no brainer. Zemel explained that Blue Bottle, which has locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, New York City, and Japan, has been offering all of its employees earned sick days since San Francisco became the first city in the nation to pass an earned sick days law. Said Zemel: “It was the passage of the San Francisco law that gave us the nudge we needed to ’walk the talk’ about staff as a valued asset, and we immediately expanded paid sick days to all our employees,” including those in locations where it was not legally required at the time. For Blue Bottle, which spends about $2,500 to train each new barista, policies like earned sick days are good for workers and smart business—reducing turnover and boosting employee morale.

The experience of Blue Bottle, which has found implementing earned sick days laws to be simple and straightforward, is validated by data. As the title of a recent article in Bloomberg View reads, “Sick Leave Doesn’t Hurt Business, Says Business.” The piece reviews studies from San Francisco, Seattle, and Connecticut, all of which have enacted earned sick days laws. In each jurisdiction, there is little evidence that the policy has a negative effect on businesses.

But these policies do have a positive effect on working families. At the press conference, Congresswoman DeLauro recounted the story, told to her by a school bus driver, about the many parents she had seen over the years who cried as they loaded sick children on the bus. These parents had no choice; they rightly feared for their jobs or couldn’t make ends meet without that day’s wages. Thankfully, if the momentum we are seeing at the state and local levels continues to fuel victories—including passage of a federal law—many more workers will be able to care for themselves and their loved ones without living in fear.

Click here to read the brief Wages Lost, Jobs at Risk

Feb 5, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

FMLA Anniversary Marks Progress, Reminds Us There’s More to Do

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

Passed 22 years ago today, the FMLA is landmark legislation that men and women have used over 200 million times  to recover from serious illness or care for a loved one without fear of job loss. That’s well worth a party with champagne. But just as birthdays are reminders of what we wanted to be when we “grew up,” FMLA’s anniversary reminds us that there’s still much more to do. Let’s make this the last year we celebrate FMLA while still waiting for paid leave for all workers. By passing common-sense legislation, next year we can celebrate FMLA as a stepping stone that got us where we needed to go.

A federal law establishing paid leave for all workers would build upon the enormous success of the FMLA.  While FMLA extends the right to unpaid, job-protected leave, the absence of income replacement makes it economically impossible for many families to take advantage of it. Second, millions of workers are not covered by the law.  FMLA was a major step forward for workers; its importance is demonstrated by the many times it has been used. The next step is to make such leave more affordable so that all working families have their needs meet.

Today, CLASP is releasing a new fact sheet that highlights just how costly lack of paid leave is to workers and their families. Paid family and medical leave is not a perk; it’s a lifeline. For too many workers, taking the time they need to recover from illness or care for a loved one means lost wages and lost jobs. CLASP’s fact sheet tracks the astonishing number of workers who, without paid family and medical leave or paid sick days, are sidelined in an already tough economy. (Although we’re marking the anniversary of FMLA— a law focused on long-term leave—workers also lose wages and jobs because they lack paid sick days for short-term leave.)

This year's anniversary comes at an important moment; the spotlight is brighter than ever on the need for paid leave. In the wake of a recession that has left us with more low-wage jobs and fewer middle class opportunities—and in a day and age where, in most cases, every parent in a household works—action on paid family and medical leave couldn’t be more pressing. This week, the White House moved the agenda forward with an ambitious budget proposal that includes more than $2.2 billion in funding for states to establish and implement their own paid family and medical leave programs. To date, only three states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) have enacted family leave insurance programs; however, advocates in many states are pursuing family leave legislation, and the recent Federal attention to state programs will give them a boost.

At the federal level, we expect the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to be reintroduced in the coming months. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance pool, which workers could draw on to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave when they need to recover from serious illness, care for a sick family member, or bond with a new child. The bill is modeled on existing state programs, which both workers and employers have deemed a success.

Working families should not have to risk financial chaos when they celebrate joyous events like a baby’s birth or address challenges like illness. On this FMLA Anniversary, our wish is that the year ahead be one of continued progress, riding the momentum the president has brought to an already thriving paid family and medical leave movement. Come 2016, let’s dream that when we blow out the candles for the next FMLA anniversary, we simultaneously celebrate the birth of paid family and medical leave programs in more states across the country and continued federal momentum.

Read about how lack of paid leave can lead to job and wage loss >>

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