In Focus

Aug 5, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

On the Road with FMLA for 22 Years

By Jodie Levin-Epstein 

Twenty two years ago today the rubber hit the road on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That’s when the new law actually began to reach workers around the country. Since then, working men and women have been able to take unpaid FMLA leave about 200 million times to care for children, elders, and spouses or to address their own serious illness for up to twelve weeks -- without fear of losing their jobs. 

The birth of the law itself, however, was not easy. A large part of the challenge was push back from employer associations that worried about a new labor standard. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Businesses took the lead in bludgeoning the legislation when it was first introduced some 30 years ago; a leader of the latter cried wolf and claimed that the unpaid family benefits represented “the greatest threats to small business in America.” The bill got stuck for a full decade until bipartisan Congressional leadership finally delivered it. Nineteen Republicans in the Senate and 40 in the House voted yes, joining scores of Democrats in both chambers. That was in 1993.

The business associations that worried and rallied against unpaid leave before the law passed should take to heart how unthreatening actual implementation of FMLA is to businesses both small and large. Employers typically find that the FMLA is a manageable policy and that it can have positive impacts. Fully 9 of every 10 employers report that complying with the FMLA has had either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on employee absenteeism, turnover, and morale according to a national survey released by the Department of Labor in 2013. A poll of small businesses found that four out of five small entrepreneurs support FMLA, including almost half who strongly favor it.

While the FMLA has already achieved a lot, it needs to be modernized. About 40 percent of the workforce is not covered by the FMLA. That’s because the law includes significant restrictions on which employers and which employees are covered. For example, employers with fewer than 50 workers are not covered. Further, it also limits who in the family an employee can care for under FMLA; notably, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings are among those who are excluded. Some states have taken action to address these FMLA issues. Congress should let bi-partisan history repeat itself and act now to modernize the FMLA.

While a modernized FMLA is necessary, it is not sufficient. FMLA provides unpaid leave, which makes it unaffordable for many. A program that provides paid family and medical leave for all workers will make it more feasible for those who struggle to make ends meet to take the time to care for family. Employer-provided paid coverage is rare: only 13 percent of workers have access to paid family leave and less than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer disability programs.

In Congress, the FAMILY Act would establish a social insurance program funded by small contributions from both employers and employees; workers on leave would receive partial pay. Importantly, a poll conducted for Small Business Majority (SBM) found that a plurality (45 percent) of small businesses support this approach. Three states – California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – have already created their own paid family leave programs. Evidence is building that these programs, like the FMLA, work for employers. For example, a study found that California’s paid leave program gets high marks: 9 out of 10 employers report either positive or no noticeable effects on productivity, profitability, turnover, and employee morale. 

Business associations and individual employers are already speaking out in support of paid family and medical leave. Leaders from American Sustainable Business Council, SBM, Main Street Alliance, and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce have each offered perspectives in support of the FAMILY Act. Better Workplaces, Better Businesses, a partnership of associations, highlights employers who make the business case for paid leave and are calling on Congress to take action. As Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube (a Google subsidiary), explains:

“When we increased paid maternity leave at Google from 12 to 18 weeks, we discovered it wasn’t just good for mothers, it was good for business, doubling our retention rate amongst mothers. I’ve personally benefitted from Google’s policy, but all working families, regardless of their employer or state of residence, deserve the benefits of paid family leave. That’s why I support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, a federal bill that would help employees care for their families until they were ready to return to work and help their businesses thrive.”

As the FMLA celebrates 22 years of being on the road, it is time to acknowledge that the existing infrastructure for job-protected, unpaid family and medical leave deserves repair; it is also time to move in a new direction and create a paid family and medical leave program for all workers. If our nation truly cares about families, as our leaders so often say, it’s time to ramp up old and new policies that can drive such words into action.

Jul 17, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Schedules that Work Act Reintroduced in House and Senate

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, seven members of Congress joined workers and an employer at an event marking reintroduction of the Schedules that Work Act, federal legislation to provide vital protections for employees burdened with unpredictable, inflexible work schedules. If passed, it would provide stability for low-income workers and improve businesses’ bottom lines.

The Schedules that Work Act would guarantee employees the right to request scheduling accommodations from their employers without fear of retaliation. Additionally, workers with caregiving obligations, second jobs, or serious health conditions, as well as those enrolled in educational or job training programs, would have the right to receive such accommodations. Employers in the retail, food preparation and service, and building cleaning sectors would further be required to provide workers with their schedules at least two weeks in advance and compensate them with additional pay for last-minute schedule changes, being sent home from work early, or working split shifts.

This would dramatically improve the lives of workers like Hilaria Bonilla, a fast food worker and single mother who spoke at the briefing. When Bonilla was diagnosed with glaucoma, her doctor advised her not to work after dark. However, because she is afraid that any request to change schedules will lead her manager to cut her hours in retaliation, she has continued to work the night shift. The schedule accommodations guaranteed by the Schedules that Work Act would allow Bonilla to protect her health and spend more time with her daughter.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) stressed that businesses as well as their employees benefit from fair scheduling practices. When workers gain economic security [through predictable work schedules], it reduces turnover,” she explained. “This bill is actually pro-worker and pro-business.” This message was echoed by Washington, DC, restaurateur Tony Dundas-Lucca. The owner of 1905 and El Camino provides his 60 employees with their work schedules a month in advance and lets them request changes and trade shifts. The policies have been good for his bottom line: “These practices…are part of what allows us to maintain relatively low turnover in a high-turnover industry,” said Dundas-Lucca. “We save on the costs of hiring and training new staff, and we benefit from the higher morale and productivity of our satisfied employees.”

Research supports Dundas-Lucca’s testimony. Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago, described how managers at businesses that have implemented more flexible scheduling practices report greater productivity, improved customer service, and reduced absenteeism. Moreover, firms where managers considered employee needs in creating work schedules enjoyed almost 23 percent less employee turnover. Given the high cost of training new employees, implementing practices that encourage employee retention—most notably offering stable or flexible schedules—makes good business sense.

The bill’s reintroduction comes as interest in scheduling rights surges across the country. In 2015 alone, legislation to improve employer scheduling practices has been introduced in 12 jurisdictions. Additionally, San Francisco has enacted the country’s first comprehensive retail workers’ bill of rights, which includes provisions on scheduling and access to hours.

The Schedules that Work Act will provide critical support to workers struggling to plan their lives in the face of last-minute scheduling changes and unpredictable work hours. Wednesday’s reintroduction brings hope for swift Congressional action to promote sound business practices and support our nation’s most vulnerable workers.

Jun 19, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

D.C. Workers Have Too Few Hours, Too Little Notice

By Liz Ben-Ishai

In a town where highflying lobbyists, Capitol Hill power brokers, and political campaign aficionados are known to work long, arduous hours, a “West Wing” fantasy can distract people from poverty and inequality. According to a new study, workers in Washington, D.C. often receive their schedules with just a few days’ notice. They also struggle to get enough hours to make ends meet and are expected to make themselves available at all hours of the day despite rarely receiving work.

The study, released last week by DC Jobs With Justice, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative, highlights a set of scheduling challenges with which workers are contending nationwide. The groups’ survey found that 80 percent of respondents wanted more hours; in the absences of sufficient hours and pay, nearly a quarter of workers in the study were working multiple jobs.

A national study of early-career workers ages 26 to 32, released last year, found that nearly 40 percent were receiving one week or less notice of their job schedules. The D.C. study takes this question to a finer gradation. It finds that nearly half of surveyed workers in D.C. receive less than one week’s notice and one-third receive less than three days’ notice. Among retail and restaurant workers, nearly one-third receive less than 24 hours’ notice of schedule changes. Workers with families to care for, classes to attend, second jobs, or other obligations cannot sustain these fly-by-night scheduling practices.

The movement for fair, sustainable job schedules is gaining momentum across the country. Over the past year, public concern around unfair job scheduling practices has led about 10 states to introduce legislation to expand workers’ rights. The federal Schedules that Work Act, first introduced last year, is likely to be re-introduced in the coming months. And last year, a coalition of worker’s rights groups in San Francisco, led by Jobs With Justice, helped pass the nation’s first “Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights,” which includes advance notice of schedules, compensation for last-minute schedule changes, and access to hours for part-time employees.

The new D.C. survey shows that action is needed in the District, too. Some employers, such as child care center owner Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn, are doing the right thing. “Having happy employees is critical for the success of our business,” St. Hilaire-Finn said. “Fair and flexible scheduling is one way we accomplish this.” She provides at least two weeks’ notice to her employees and accommodates staff requests for flexibility.

Unfortunately, too many employers are ignoring the business case for fair scheduling. That’s why public policies to create minimum standards for workers’ schedules are needed. Employers like St. Hilarie-Finn and others agree that policy solutions are needed to extend the benefits they already extend to all workers.

In the coming months, we expect the momentum to continue on this critical job quality issue—here in the District and all across the country.

Read the report >>

Visit CLASP’s National Repository of Resources on Job Scheduling Policy >>

site by Trilogy Interactive