In Focus: Business Leadership and Job Quality

Apr 1, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

More State and Local Governments Now Offer Paid Family Leave

By Felicia Onuma

Today, the United States is the only developed nation that does not guarantee workers paid maternity leave. It also trails most other countries in offering paid paternity, family, medical, and sick leave. Because each parent works in most families with children, the lack of a nationwide paid family leave law makes it difficult to balance jobs and parenting. In the absence of federal action, some state and local governments have taken the lead by offering paid family or parental leave to their public employees.

Without paid family leave, many Americans are forced to cobble together unused sick, personal, or vacation days to care for a new child.  In most cases, this makeshift leave is far less than they need. For other workers, the situation even is worse. Nearly half of all workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid time off (personal, sick, family, or vacation leave). Certain employees who meet tenure requirements at companies with 50 or more workers are able to access unpaid, job-protected leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This leave can be used to recover from child birth, bond with a new child, care for a sick family member, or address personal health problems. But 40 percent of workers are not covered by FMLA, and many who are can’t afford to take unpaid leave.

State and city governments employ over 19 million people. Contrary to political rhetoric, many state and city employees receive less compensation (including pay and benefits) than their private-sector counterparts. For these workers, access to paid leave is critical to family economic security. Fortunately, a growing number of states and cities are stepping up to provide this important benefit.

Allegheny County, PA and Seattle, WA are the most recent jurisdictions to institute paid leave policies for public employees. According to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, implementing this policy “is the right thing to do for our employees, for their children, and for our county.” He noted: “We benefit as a community when employees succeed at work and at home.” In an op-ed, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Jean Godden declared: “It is time for our country to recognize the importance of this issue and respond with appropriate policies that support our workers and their families.” Murray and Godden further explain how paid leave benefits workplace gender equity, child development, and business.

Allegheny County will provide six weeks of paid parental leave for full-time employees who have worked for the county for at least a year, while Seattle will offer its employees four weeks of paid parental leave.

Heidi Goldberg, program director for early childhood and family economic success at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, observes that “cities such as Seattle that are establishing paid parental leave for city employees are modeling strong policies that are good for both business and for communities. Ensuring that parents can care for their children without losing their jobs does a great deal to equalize the playing field for low-income families while boosting a city’s overall economic health through increased job stability.”

Other cities and counties offering paid family leave to government workers include San Francisco, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; St. Paul, MN; Brooklyn Park, MN; St. Petersburg, FL; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX and King County, WA. Six states have also enacted paid family leave policies: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Resources on state and local government employee paid leave policies and other paid leave policy developments are available here:

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.

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.

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