In Focus: Paid Sick Days

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.

Jan 22, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

President Obama’s Two-Generation Strategy: Right Package, Right Time

President’s Obama’s domestic priorities outlined in Tuesday’s State of the Union address encompass a thoughtful and timely package—not simply a laundry list—to help poor and low-income families lift themselves into the middle class.  CLASP has long advocated for these priorities and strategies because we think that, taken together, they support families and add up to a far greater impact together than any of them could have alone.  We are delighted to see the president’s approach reflects this same judgment.

The president’s proposals on community college, child care, paid leave, and tax credits embrace a two-generation approach to addressing poverty that recognizes the importance of supporting both parents and children. Two-generation policies reflect strong research findings that the well-being of parents is inextricably linked to children’s social-emotional, physical, and economic well-being. At the same time, parents’ ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by how well their children are doing. Because more than 70 percent of poor children live in families with at least one worker, it is essential that we address the needs of both children and their parents in thinking about the workplace as well as the home.  And 26% of community college students are parents–a policy opportunity for helping both generations that CLASP focused on in a panel discussion at a public forum last summer featuring experts and practitioners from the worlds of postsecondary education and early care and education. 

CLASP believes the president’s focus on the following initiatives is directly responsive to the needs of today’s struggling families:

  • Free community college. In describing his plan for community college, President Obama said, “Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.”   Between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of college students who had low incomes rose dramatically, from 40 percent of undergraduate students with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level in 2008, to 51 percent in 2012. Without income to cover basic living expenses, these students will most likely have to work more to cover direct and indirect college costs, increasing time to degree completion.  The president’s plan to pay for community college tuition would help cover the overall cost of attendance, allowing low-income students to use some of their Pell grants to pay for books, transportation, and living expenses.
  • Child Care.  As President Obama forcefully stated, “It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.” When families are able to access quality child care, children are better prepared for success in life and parents are more likely to succeed on the job as they gain peace of mind from knowing their child is well cared for and thriving. Together, these two goals are critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness now and in the future. Moreover, bipartisan support late last year for the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant underscores that this issue has traction.
  • Paid Leave.  Millions of Americans are currently losing wages and jobs in order to care for their families and their health.  Almost all (95 percent) workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid family leave, and 70 percent of these same workers have no access to earned sick days. The Administration’s call for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, federal earned sick days legislation, and proposed investments in state-level paid family and medical leave programs demonstrate a keen awareness of working families’ needs. In addition to helping families, these actions will create a more effective workforce—improving the bottom lines of businesses and driving economic growth.
  • Tax reform. In another strong signal in support of working families, President Obama stated the importance of “helping folks afford child care, college, health care, a home, retirement [by] lowering the taxes of working families, and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.” His strategy? Strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, both of which been shown to effectively help lift families out of poverty, as well as expanding the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education costs, the tax credit for families paying for child care, and creating a new credit to help two-earner families with work expenses.

We applaud this strategic vision that offers a ladder up to the middle class for hard-working poor and low-income families by addressing the needs of both children and their parents.  Achieving the American dream by helping struggling hard-working families improve their skills, take care of their children, and better their and their children’s prospects ought to be something we can all agree on.  It’s the right package at the right time.

 

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.

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