In Focus: Employees and Responsive Workplaces

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.

Nov 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Job Quality Wins at the Ballot Box; Next Up: Federal Laws and Implementation

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Good jobs are a bipartisan issue—that was the message from voters in yesterday’s midterm elections.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—states where Republicans won gubernatorial and Congressional races—and in several cities in California, voters resoundingly supported initiatives to increase the minimum wage. Cities and counties in Wisconsin and Illinois also supported minimum wage initiatives in non-binding referenda. In Oakland, California; Trenton and Montclair, Jersey; and Massachusetts, workers were also winners with the passage of paid sick days ballot initiatives.

Advocates in all of these jurisdictions have worked tirelessly for this long-awaited victory. Their efforts have built consensus within communities across the country that no one should work full-time, but still live in poverty; parents shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of a sick child and earning a day’s wages; and workers shouldn’t have to show up at work when they ought to be at home recovering from illness. For working families, these are exciting outcomes that will help bolster the nationwide fight for improved job quality and counter the spread of inequality.

Massachusetts’ paid sick days victory at the ballot box comes on the heels of California’s recently passed statewide paid sick days legislation. Until last month, Connecticut was the only state to have such a law. But momentum for paid sick days standards has been building at the local level for some time, with San Francisco passing the nation’s first law in 2007, and an additional nine cities passing laws just in 2014. With a total of three state and 16 city paid sick days laws now in effect or soon to be enacted, the days of counting the country’s sick time protections on one hand are long gone.

In the wake of this week’s victories, ensuring proper implementation and enforcement of existing and newly passed paid sick days laws is critical. Going forward, advocates and government agencies must work together to ensure that recent (and less-recent) paid sick days laws are making a meaningful difference in the lives of working families. On both coasts, agencies charged with paid sick days implementation are already stepping up their game. Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced a new set of strategies to boost employer compliance, now that the city’s law has been effective for more than two years. And New York City is ready to issue its first fines to employers that have failed to comply with the city’s recently enacted law.

Although the results of yesterday’s Congressional election may appear to make action at the national level less likely, it is critical that we continue to push for passage of the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631), the federal paid sick days bill that would guarantee millions more workers access to paid sick days, regardless of what state or city they live in. Indeed, this week’s clear show of bipartisan support for paid sick days, minimum wage, and other job quality measures—which echoes earlier polling results—will hopefully be an eye-opener for both newly elected and returning Members of Congress as they plan their legislative agenda for the coming session.  At the same time, as we advocate for passage of federal paid sick days legislation, local and state campaigns are more important than ever in paving the way to a national labor standard.

Aug 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Local, National Initiatives Aim to Improve Working Conditions for Low-Wage Workers

By Lauren French

Tiffany Beroid was working as a customer service manager at Walmart while attending community college classes to become a nurse. When she asked for a schedule adjustment that would allow her to continue classes, not only did the retailer refuse her request, it drastically cut her hours. She had to drop out of her college nursing program because she was not able to pay her tuition. The financial strain sent her family into a tail-spin—forcing her husband to work 24-hour shifts as a security guard just to keep them afloat.

Tiffany's story is not atypical. While the retail industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. economy, retail workers are among the lowest paid. The average wage for a woman working in retail is just $10.58 an hour; even in the unlikely event that she were able to secure full-time status, that wage would leave a family of three near poverty. In recent months, growing attention has also focused on the industry’s unpredictable and unstable scheduling practices, which make it nearly impossible for workers to budget, attend school, keep a second job, or plan for child care. On top of already low wages, retail workers' shifts often fluctuate from week to week and many receive their job schedules at the last minute. Workers are also often required to accept “on call” shifts, where they must keep their schedules open but have no guarantee of compensation if they do not end up getting called.

Last week, several events raised the profile of these issues. The City of San Francisco, which has consistently led the way on family-friendly workplace policies, is poised to take another big step. On Tuesday, City Supervisor Eric Mar introduced the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which would create new scheduling protections for retail workers in San Francisco. The legislation, which was moved forward by a coalition of labor, community, and small business advocates, would require employees to offer hours to existing employees before hiring more workers. The bill would also require that employees be paid for a minimum of four hours’ work when they are required to be on call or when shifts are canceled with less than a day’s notice. If adopted, the new law would apply to chain stores with 11 or more locations. In the fall, Supervisor David Chiu (who last year championed the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance) will introduce the second part of the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which will advance additional provisions to protect retail workers.

The issue is also being addressed at the national level. On July 22, the Schedules that Work Act was introduced in Congress by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative George Miller (D-CA), and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The bill would give workers the right to request—and in some cases receive—scheduling changes without fear of retaliation. It would require employers in the retail, restaurant, and building cleaning industries to provide workers with advanced notice of their schedules and to compensate them when they are sent home from work before the end of their shifts or are required to work nonconsecutive hours in one day (a “split shift”).

Further underscoring the growing movement to improve working conditions for low-wage workers, Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) hosted a congressional briefing to highlight the many challenges faced by women in the retail sector. At the briefing, Tiffany Beroid shared her experience with Walmart and her work with the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Other speakers included Amy Traub of Demos and Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

While retail is not the only sector filled with low-wage and unpredictable jobs, it is one of the top sectors employing women—a trend economists expect to continue for the foreseeable future. According to Traub, there are currently 1.3 million women working in retail who are living in or near poverty; their economic security is constantly in doubt because of retail employment practices. Almost 30 percent of women in this sector who are working part-time would prefer to be working full time. Traub explained that contrary to popular belief, these workers are not high school students earning some extra pocket money. Ninety-three percent of low-wage women working in the retail sector are 20 years old and above. One in three of are supporting children, and almost 20 percent are the sole earner in the household.

Fortunately, there are policies we can adopt today to strengthen the economic security of these working women. The Schedules that Work Act would provide a comprehensive solution to scheduling challenges for workers nationwide. Until this legislation passes, local and state initiatives, like those proposed in San Francisco and passed in Vermont, are moving the needle for the millions of workers struggling to make ends meet in low-wage jobs.

 

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