In Focus: Paid Sick Days

May 12, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave: Just What the Doctor Ordered for National Women’s Health Week

By Felicia Onuma

As we celebrate National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) this week (May 10-16, 2015), advocates, policymakers, and others will mark the progress made in improving health care for women. One sometimes overlooked, but critical, ingredient to health care is access to paid sick time and paid family and medical leave. These worker protections ensure that workers have the time to see their health care providers and attend to their health needs.  Today, in honor of NWHW, CLASP is releasing a brief on the importance of paid leave to preventive health care.

NWHW was instituted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health in 1999 to draw attention to strategies that help women lead healthier, longer, and safer lives. One critical aspect of achieving these goals is increasing routine health checkups and screenings for women in order to prevent illnesses, diseases, and other health problems—or at least detect them at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be effective. Yet, without paid leave, this avenue to better health may be a nonstarter for far too many women.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) an increasing number of Americans, especially low-income earners, now have access to health care. According to most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 16.4 million Americans who were previously uninsured have gained coverage since the ACA took effect. Besides expanding health care access, one particularly welcome aspect of this health care reform law is that it covers 100 percent of preventive care for women’s health. This means that women who seek a wide variety of preventive services, ranging from mammograms and well-woman visits to contraception, can get them without any without any out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite this important legal step forward in access to preventive care,  too many women do not have take the time they need to actually get these services. With our country’s labor standards seriously lagging behind those in much of the rest of the world, an inordinate number of Americans cannot take time away from work to reap the benefits of this reform. Today, more than 40 million workers in the U.S. (39 percent) are without access to paid sick days and nearly 95 million workers (87 percent) have no paid family leave. Among low-wage workers earning $15,000 or less per year, 80 percent do not have paid sick days. Similarly, 80 percent of part-time workers working fewer than 20 hours per week do not have paid sick days.

Lack of access to earned sick days impedes many women from heeding the advice of medical practitioners to seek preventive health care. In a 2014 study, researchers found that women without sick leave were 12 percent less likely to undergo breast cancer screening than women with sick leave. According to HHS, nearly 10 percent of women who delayed prenatal care were unable to take time off work or school to obtain medical care. Furthermore, those with an insufficient amount of sick days usually opt to save their only available leave to tend to their children, often times skipping or delaying care for themselves.

For their own or a family member’s longer-term illness, or to welcome a new baby, about 60 percent of workers have access to unpaid job protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, even for those who qualify for FMLA leave, the financial cost of taking unpaid time off is often impossible to bear. Among workers with unpaid FMLA leave, 52 percent deferred care and 50 percent chose to forgo care altogether because they could not afford to take leave or were fearful of losing their jobs.  

Fortunately, a growing number of states and cities – 21 jurisdictions – have now passed paid sick days laws. Three states have enacted paid family leave programs. And a growing number of states, cities, and even counties are providing their own public employees with paid family and medical leave. Dozens of campaigns to pass paid sick days and paid family leave at the national, state, and city level are gaining momentum around the country.  This important movement forward is worth celebrating this National Women’s Health Week. At the same time, this occasion presents an opportunity to step up the intensity of our calls for further action on paid leave. It’s just what the doctor ordered for women’s health, and for the nation.

Read CLASP’s brief on paid leave and preventive health care >>

Apr 15, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

One year later, the results of Jersey City’s Earned Sick Days law are promising

By Felicia J. Onuma

One year after Jersey City’s earned sick days ordinance took effect, the verdict is in: workers and business are both winning big. Contrary to opponents’ predictions, a new study shows that more than one-third of employers have experienced higher employee productivity, made better-quality hires, and had less employee turnover since implementing the law. Earned Sick Days in Jersey City: A Study of Employers and Employees at Year One, published by Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work, echoes the findings of numerous other reports on the effects of earned sick days laws on employers.

In September 2013, Jersey City became the first jurisdiction in New Jersey to adopt an earned sick days ordinance. The law, which took effect in January 2014, enables workers in businesses with 10 or more employees to earn up to 5 paid sick days each year. Workers in businesses with 9 or fewer employees can earn up to five unpaid sick days.

For most Jersey City businesses, compliance with the law has not been detrimental. Most employers have observed little change in employee behavior. Moreover, many have noted significant benefits. More than 92 percent of employers reported no change in the use of paid sick days following implementation of the law; another 4 percent reported that their employees were taking fewer sick days. More than one-third of employers reported more productivity, less turnover, and improved quality of new hires.

As expected, Jersey City’s law is also helping workers. More than half of Jersey City employees reported earning at least one sick day since the law took effect. The percentage is even higher (60 percent) among workers who have been with the same employer for more than a year. Furthermore, nearly 72 percent of employees who had more sick days due to the law reported higher job satisfaction. 

Jersey City’s experience is not unique. In other jurisdictions with sick leave laws, the majority of employers are complying with standards and reaping their benefits. In San Francisco and  Connecticut, 82 percent and 93 percent of employers, respectively, provide paid sick time to their employees as required by law. Further, the majority of San Francisco and Connecticut employers, as well as those in Seattle, reported no change in costs, profitability, customer service, or employee morale due to earned sick days standards.

New Jersey municipalities are leading the charge on sick days nationwide. Across the state, Jersey City and seven other cities (Newark, Passaic, East Orange, Patterson, Irvington, Trenton, and Montclair), have implemented earned sick days laws. This report on Jersey City’s experience offers encouragement and insight to other jurisdictions as they work to implement their own laws.

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:

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