In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

Aug 1, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Paid Leave: A No-Brainer for Businesses and a Lifesaver for Workers

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Could it be that workers whose employers offer leave benefits actually end up getting sick less often because they are happier? Senator Al Franken (D-MN), tongue firmly in cheek, proposed this “radical” idea at a hearing on paid leave held by the Senate Health Economic Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families. Franken’s comments echo all the evidence: paid leave is a no-brainer that benefits both workers and employers. Unfortunately, far too many workers still lack paid leave, including paid sick days and paid family and medical leave.

The hearing, convened by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), drew attention to the dire circumstances facing U.S. workers who need time away from work to welcome a new child, care for a sick loved one, or recover from serious illness. Witnesses testified to the importance of paid leave for families’ economic security, the value to employers of offering such programs, and the growing body of evidence that shows the effectiveness of existing paid leave programs. The critical importance of this issue was evidenced by the attendance of seven senators: Casey (D-PA), Franken (D-MN), Hagan (D-NC), Harkin (D-IA), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), and Warren (D-MA).

Those who oppose paid leave policies often express concern about their effect on businesses. However, testimony from Kevin Trapani, CEO and president of The Redwoods Group, and Maryella Gockel, flexibility leader at Ernst & Young LLP, demonstrates that such worries are misguided. Indeed, for these employers, as well as for businesses in the states that have passed paid family leave insurance laws (California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey), there has been no evidence of what witness Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women & Families called the “parade of horribles”—a litany of negative business implications predicted by critics.

Trapani, whose business offers generous leave benefits, described the importance of meeting his employees’ needs so that they can best  perform important work for clients and the community. Paid leave has been crucial to the well-being of many Redwoods employees, said Trapani. For example, one employee took paid leave to care for his sick father, who lives out of town. He told Trapani, “My dad may not have survived if I hadn’t been here.” And at Redwoods, paid leave doesn’t just benefit  employees grappling with grave personal matters; it pays dividends for  the company’s bottom line. Redwood’s turnover rate for the past 10 years is only 5 percent, generating major  cost savings and increased productivity from a loyal workforce.

Ernst & Young’s Gockel explained how paid leave and other benefits have nearly closed the gap in retention rates between male and female employees at her company; in the mid-90s, she said, women were leaving the company at a much faster rate than men. Beyond the impact of such disparities on women’s ability to advance in their careers, Gockel noted that high rates of turnover are costly. For a mid-level worker, said Gockel, it costs between 1.5 and two times the worker’s annual salary to hire and train a replacement.

Jeannine Sato’s experience, recounted at the hearing, brings the retention and turnover numbers to life. In a previous job, when Sato had her first child, she found that her employer was not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because it had multiple offices that were more than 75 miles apart, meaning the number of employees at each location could not be combined for FMLA eligibility purposes. This obscure provision meant that Sato was not eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the law—and her employer was unwilling to accommodate her needs. As the family breadwinner, she had no choice but to go back to work just six weeks after giving birth. Soon, she was looking for a new job. “Even a big raise couldn’t keep me there,” she said. Sure enough, Sato had found  new employment less than a year later. Workers like Sato offer a lesson to employers about the consequences of not providing paid leave: while it may prevent a valued employee’s temporary absence, it could cause you to lose them permanently.

While some employers haven’t caught on yet, there are many who are aware of the importance of providing paid leave. Unfortunately, despite many high-road employers taking action, others are not in a position to do so because of the financial burden of extended paid leaves. However, legislation introduced in Congress last December would help such well-intentioned employers to do right by their workers. Using small contributions from employers and employees, the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMILY) Act would create a trust fund for workers to draw on when they need to take leave. Such a social insurance program is appealing to workers and employers alike, as evidenced by support from many small businesses and a growing group of diverse business leaders from across the country.

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 >>

Jun 13, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Conference Explores Connections Between Low-Wage Work and Child Poverty

By Lauren French

More than 16 million children in the United States are living in poverty, making our child poverty rate—a shocking 23 percent—one of the highest in the developed world. Children are also the poorest age group in the country; while they represent just 24 percent of our total population, they make up 34 percent of all people in poverty.

Earlier this week, a conference held in Washington, D.C. brought together a number of experts to discuss policy solutions. Inequality Begins at Birth: Child Poverty in America, co-hosted by The Century Foundation, the Roosevelt Institute, and the Academic Pediatric Association (APA), focused on important issues such as the impact of toxic stress; the demographics of child poverty; the challenges facing working mothers; the need for higher wages and paid leave policies; and the importance of safety net programs.

One critical aspect of child poverty discussed by conference speakers is its inextricable link to low-wage work. “What's little understood is that the typical poor child lives in a household with a parent who's in the workforce,” said Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of CLASP. “Two out of every three poor children have a parent in the workforce; one out of every three of those children has a parent working full-time, year-round, and is still in poverty.”

Poor children are not only negatively impacted by parent's low wages but also by the lack of benefits afforded by those jobs—especially paid leave and paid sick days. “No parent should be stuck in a situation in which they have to make the hard decision about whether or not they want to be a responsible parent or whether or not they will be a dedicated employee,” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, author and former executive director of the National Council for Negro Women. Unfortunately, that is a very real struggle for the 70 percent of low-wage workers who have no access to paid sick days and the nearly half of low-wage workers who have no paid leave at all: no sick days, no family leave, no vacation. This creates a situation where parents who take time to care for their families may lose not only wages but also their jobs. Poor-quality jobs can be hazardous to family well-being and can perpetuate poverty.

The connection between parents’ low-wage jobs and child poverty has been increasing over time. According to Levin-Epstein,“low wage jobs are trending” and “the share of poor children with a parent working full-time, year-round has grown significantly over the last 20 years—up from one quarter to nearly a third.”

This conference and the corresponding research make clear that if we want to address child poverty, we must address the precarious situation of their low-income parents. Working families need decent jobs if they are to properly care for their children and ensure future prosperity.

To see the working parents panel at the conference click here.

 

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