In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

Feb 5, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

On FMLA Anniversary, Bill Clinton’s Words Ring More True Than Ever

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

Someday soon, America’s president could sign the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act into law. On that momentous occasion, he or she would be well served to echo the words of President Bill Clinton. Twenty-three years ago, upon signing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Clinton said: “Currently, the United States is virtually the only advanced industrialized country without a national family and medical leave policy. Now, with the signing of this bill, American workers in all 50 States will enjoy the same rights as workers in other nations."

FMLA, which granted some workers access to unpaid, job-protected leave, brought the U.S. closer to other developed countries. Since its passage, workers have taken more than 100 million FMLA leaves. Unfortunately, the majority of U.S. workers are still waiting for paid leave, in contrast to those in other countries. Indeed, the U.S. is the only developed country that fails to provide paid maternity leave.

The FAMILY Act would provide workers up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, enabling them to draw on an insurance pool funded through small employee and employer payroll contributions. With this landmark legislation, Americans would truly “catch up” to workers across the world—fulfilling the promise of Clinton’s speech more than two decades later.

There is vast public support for paid family and medical leave from Americans of both major political parties. In fact, new polling just released this week shows yet again that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans see updating the nation’s family and medical leave law to include paid leave as important. Yet, even with this strong support, and despite considerable data to the contrary, some groups claim that paid family and medical leave insurance will burden employers.

Just in time for FMLA’s anniversary, we have new evidence that paid family leave is, put simply, no big deal for employers. A new study of Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program—one of three statewide paid family leave programs, along with California’s and New Jersey’s—reveals virtually no negative effects on employers’ productivity or employees’ morale and attendance. Moreover, a majority of employers expressed support for the program when surveyed one year after launch. In both Rhode Island and California, paid leave has been a relative non-event. In fact, evidence is mounting that these policies actually benefit employers, a reality apparent to small businesses owners, who have expressed strong support in nationwide polling.

As President Clinton said in 1993, “it is only when workers can count on a commitment from their employer that they can make their own full commitments to their jobs. We must extend the success of those forward-looking workplaces where high-performance teamwork has already begun to take root and where family and medical leave already is accepted.”

Testimonials from employers around the country speak to the benefits of paid leave policies. Dan Teran, CEO of Managed By Q, a fast growing “smart office management” startup that has gone from 2 to more than 500 employees in under 2 years, explained: “We support the federal bill, the FAMILY Act, which would enable workers across the country to use family and medical leave insurance and support employers like us, who want to do the right thing but may not be able to bear the full cost of paid leave. At Managed By Q, we believe our business will grow precisely because we put our workers first—and we think the same is true for the economy more broadly.”

The time has come to put U.S. workers on equal footing with their global counterparts—supporting work/life balance while giving businesses a boost. With a strong business case for paid leave and support from a growing list of high-road employers, Congress has every reason to pass the FAMILY Act. Perhaps one day soon, our president will stand in the Rose Garden and proudly echo President Clinton’s enduring words.

Feb 3, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Don’t be Fooled: Paid Sick Time Laws Don’t Cost Jobs

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

This month, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) published misleading claims that the Healthy Families Act (HFA), proposed federal paid sick days legislation, will negatively affect employment. In claiming that the HFA will lead businesses to cut jobs, NIFB’s report disregards empirical evidence from jurisdictions that already have sick days laws. These laws have not caused job cuts; in fact, researchers have found that in some cases, jurisdictions with paid sick days laws are growing jobs faster than neighboring jurisdictions without them.

The NFIB report claims the HFA would cost the U.S. economy 430,000 jobs over a 10-year period. However, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City—cities with established paid sick days standards—have boasted booming economies. In the first year Seattle’s ordinance was in effect, total employment in the city grew at a rate comparable to that of four comparator cities without paid sick days laws. Similarly, San Francisco has experienced faster employment growth (or slower declines during the Great Recession) than surrounding counties without paid sick days laws. And in New York City, nine months after the law took effect, the city’s unemployment rate was at its lowest level in six years. Further, the labor force participation rate was the highest on record and private industry had added over 91,000 jobs. The evidence is clear: economies stay strong with paid sick days laws.

NFIB’s calculations also ignore cost savings for employers providing paid sick days. Businesses with paid sick days save money through reduced turnover, reduced “presenteeism” (in which a sick worker comes in but cannot work at full capacity), and reduced spread of infection to additional employees. A cost-benefit analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded that HFA would produce net savings for employers. NFIB’s claims simply don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Business owners across the country support paid sick days laws, recognizing the benefits to both workers and the bottom line. For example, Keith Mestrich, president and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, said: “We want our customers to work for employers that support their economic security and enable them to be their best at work and at home… Amalgamated Bank supports legislation in our home state of New York, across the country, and at the federal level to ensure that our customers, and all Americans, have the paid sick days they need for a chance at financial stability.” Makini Howell, a Seattle restaurateur, explained the need for legislation: “Seventy-eight percent of people working in the restaurant industry do not earn a single paid sick day. And I understand it can be hard for a restaurant owner to go out on a limb and provide sick days when it’s not the industry standard. A paid sick days law sets a level playing field.”

In its press release announcing the report, NFIB states that “small business owners want to treat their employees fairly[.]” The HFA would accomplish just that, allowing workers across the country to seek preventive care, recover from illness, or care for their loved ones without losing pay. Evidence from jurisdictions with paid sick days laws already in place shows that businesses continue to thrive when their workers earn paid sick days. NFIB’s report will only fuel public criticisms that, rather than representing the voices of small business owners, the group prioritizes the interests of large corporations. In this case, NFIB simply hasn’t followed the evidence. The Healthy Families Act is just good business.

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.

site by Trilogy Interactive