In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Dec 23, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

The Gift that Keeps Giving: Business Support for Paid Family Leave Is Nation’s Gain

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

This holiday season, as we celebrate time with friends and family, many of us try to turn our thoughts away from work and all those unread emails, files stacked high on a desk, or long shifts at the cash register or waiting tables. But in the U.S., our jobs are intimately tied to our ability to spend time with family, in good times and bad. Most workers depend entirely on their employers’ discretion when it comes to time – particularly paid time – away from work, whether they need that time to raise a glass of egg nog, or engage in less celebratory but equally important activities, such as caring for an aging parent or recovering from serious illness of one’s own. In this country, with no federal law, private employers determine whether and how workers can earn paid sick, medical, or family leave, or vacation time, leaving it entirely up to employers to determine their workers’ – and their families’ – fate.

Some employers are doing the right thing by guaranteeing workers the ability to earn paid time to care for themselves and their families.  However, for the most part, leaving these decisions to employer discretion has left millions without the protections they need. Fortunately, some employers are stepping up to highlight not only the untapped business benefits that many businesses are missing out on by overlooking paid leave, but also the need for public policies to address unmet need.

EILEEN FISHER, a women’s fashion design and manufacturing firm and retailer, is a great example of a ‘high-road’ employer doing well by its own employees and advocating for public policies that would help all workers. Amy Hall, an executive at the company, notes in a recent, widely published op-ed, “[W]hen our employees don’t have to worry about how they’ll pay the bills during an already stressful period in their lives, it’s easier for them to focus when they work, and the more productive they are, the better we all do.” EILEEN FISHER has joined several other forward thinking members of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), including Uncommon Goods and Better World Club, in supporting the FAMILY Act, federal legislation to create a paid family and medical leave insurance program.

Hall explains, “At EILEEN FISHER, we believe so strongly that this program would be good for the country that we’ve signed on to a petition from the American Sustainable Business Council Action Fund supporting the FAMILY Act. We encourage all businesses to sign on.” She urged Congress to take action on the FAMILY Act in the New Year. Earlier this year, in an op-ed in The Hill, Mitch Rofsky, the president of another ASBC member company, Better World Club, wrote convincingly, “If Congress wants to help businesses grow, it should pass the FAMILY Act and bring the U.S. in line with other developed countries. Businesses, employees—and the marketplace—will be better for it.”

In addition to the splash EILEEN FISHER’s op-ed made last week when it was picked up in dozens of media outlets – and the power of earlier endorsements by other ASBC members – another big name came out in favor of public policies to guarantee paid family leave to workers. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki, recounted her own experience of access to generous paid maternity leave at Google (which owns YouTube). Indeed, Wojicki is about to give birth to her fifth child and will enjoy the company’s 18 weeks of paid parental leave. But while celebrating the good fortune she has at Google, Wojicki rightly says, “[S]upport for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course. Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.”

Hall, Rofsky, and Wojicki join a growing number of high-profile business leaders who believe in public policies that enable working families to take the time they need to care for themselves and their families – and recognize the business benefits of such policies. As 2015 approaches, we expect many more will join the chorus of support.

To see quotes from other leaders who support the FAMILY Act, visit Better Workplaces, Better Businesses, a website sponsored by ASBC, the Main Street Alliance, and Social Venture Network.

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.

Jul 3, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

On July 4th, Remember our Roots and Provide Sick Days for Immigrant Workers

By Alex Wang

On July 4th, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s important to remember the critical role immigrants have played and continue to play in our collective prosperity. Unfortunately, while immigrant workers make up a growing share of the U.S. labor force, many lack access to labor standards, such as paid sick days, that are critical to job security, public health, and the economy.

A new brief co-authored by CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. This difference is especially pronounced for Hispanic immigrants and lower-wage immigrant workers, particularly those who make less than $35,000 per year. The inability to take even one paid sick day forces workers to choose between their health (or the health of a loved one) and their daily earnings or—in some cases—their jobs.

 Key findings from our report include:

  • Immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Only 54 percent of immigrants have access to sick days, compared to approximately 63 percent of their native-born counterparts.
  • Hispanic immigrants have the least access to sick days relative to all other racial/ethnic groups. On average, only 41 percent of Hispanic immigrants have access to sick days.
  • Asian immigrant women have much lower access to sick days than native born Asian women. Only 64 percent of non-Hispanic Asian immigrant women have access to sick days, versus 75% of native born women.
  • Lower-income immigrant workers who are working full time are less likely to have earned sick days than native-born counterparts at similar income levels. Immigrants with incomes of less than $65,000 per year have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Around 26 percent of immigrant workers making less than $15,000 per year have access to sick days versus almost 36 percent of native-born workers.

Access to paid leave is a key aspect of job quality and compensation that is often overlooked. Given that no national law currently guarantees U.S. workers paid sick days, workers at all wage levels depend on their employers to offer leave voluntarily. While employers of higher-wage workers often do provide leave, low-wage workers are often unable to earn paid sick days, exacerbating income inequalities for those at the bottom.

Fortunately, at the state and local level, there is a growing movement to extend paid sick days access to all workers; to date, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days law. Further, federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced to Congress.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to settle, raise American children, and contribute to our national economy should be guaranteed equal access to benefits. It’s time to act to bring paid sick days—which have widespread public support—to all U.S. workers, especially those who are severely disadvantaged.

Read the brief >>

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