In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

May 16, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

During Healthy Families Act Days of Action, Business Owners Stress Benefits of Paid Sick Time

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

This week, more than 30 jurisdictions across the country are celebrating the success of their paid sick time laws and calling on Congress to pass the federal Healthy Families Act (HFA). During these “Days of Action,” which culminate on June 15 with events for both houses of Congress in Washington, D.C., employers who have implemented local and state paid sick time laws will share an important message with businesses nationwide: you have nothing to fear.

When faced with new paid sick time laws, some employers fear the laws will be bad for business. In most cases, these concerns prove unfounded when the law is actually implemented.

Tony Juliano, former general manager of XES Lounge in New York City, explains that before the city’s paid sick time law passed, “there were concerns that I and other small businesses had. But as it turns out, it hasn’t had the kind of impact that I worried about. Not even close. And in fact, the impact that I saw in my business was a much stronger bond between ourselves and our employees, higher productivity, and a more successful business, not a less successful business.”

As president of the local chamber of commerce at the time, Juliano was concerned “that the law might put some small employers out of business or at least make them cut jobs. But in fact, I don’t know anybody that has actually had to cut people because of this policy. I also thought there might be abuse.  But in our case there was no abuse. There was absolutely no abuse.”

Once the law took effect, Juliano saw that his employees not only enjoyed greater financial stability with paid sick time, but also showed greater loyalty to the business. The policy helped him retain valued employees who showed real dedication to their work. “It really has a lot to do with motivating employees, getting higher productivity, and improving the employee-employer relationship. It also allows them to pay their rent. So there’s real benefit on both sides.” He adds, “I talk to other employers. I think many would agree with me.”

Research suggests that the HFA will allow business owners nationwide to enjoy the same benefits Juliano has seen. Evidence from several jurisdictions shows that paid sick time laws have not hurt employers. One and a half years after Connecticut became the first state to implement a paid sick time law, researchers found that the law had had either no or small financial effects on businesses, most employers said their employees did not abuse their sick time, and three quarters of employers supported the law. In the first year New York City’s law was in effect, the city’s unemployment rate plummeted and new private-sector businesses opened 36 percent faster than they did the previous year. Moreover, a new cross-jurisdictional study has found no evidence of declining wages or employment rates in places with paid sick time laws.

These studies underscore why business owners and managers like Tony Juliano support paid sick time legislation. They find that offering paid sick time helps them retain good employees and keep their workplaces healthy. This week’s HFA Days of Action will promote these crucial benefits to lawmakers and the nation.

May 11, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

A Pledge For National Women’s Health Week: Better Jobs Now

By Liz Ben-Ishai

This week, as a part of National Women’s Health Week (NWHW), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) is urging women to take a pledge that includes at least one step toward a healthier life. For women in their 30s like me, options include seeing my health care provider for an annual well-woman visit; getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days; eating healthy; talking to my doctor about plans to have children in the next year; and numerous other possibilities. These are important steps for women of all ages to take, and OWH is rightly raising awareness about them.

But consider the situation of far too many women workers in the United States.

  • What about the 40 percent of employed women who lack access to a single paid sick day? For them, a well-woman doctor's visit could cost them wages or even their jobs.
  • Imagine what this pledge means for the 34 percent of early-career working women who receive less than a week’s notice of their schedules: planning a doctor’s visit, let alone 30 minutes of physical activity, can be a major challenge when you can’t predict your work schedule. 
  • For the 70 percent of early-career hourly women workers who experience fluctuations in their hours from week to week, budgeting to buy healthy food can be a nightmare. Will you regret buying fresh fruit and vegetables this week if your hours get cut from 30 to 10 next week?
  • For low-wage workers living in the 19 states that haven't expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, assuming they can take time away from work, will a doctor’s visit be affordable?  Many of these workers earn too little to pay for their own insurance but too much to qualify for Medicaid under their states’ current plans.  
  • Working women who are able to make it to their doctor’s office to discuss their childbearing plans still face major challenges. According to one national survey, nearly a quarter of women take 10 days or less of parental leave – likely because so few have access to paid leave. Any doctor will tell you that short leaves aren’t good for new moms or their babies.

One goal of NWHW is to “empower women to make their health a priority.”  Yet for women workers and their families, health is about more than individual choices; before women can be empowered to make choices—let alone make a pledge--they need basic protections in the workplace and access to programs that support their capacities to do their jobs and care for their families.  We need federal laws to guarantee access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicaid in those states that haven’t done so yet, and fair work schedules.  And as we continue to push Congress to pass these laws, states and localities should pass their own labor standards, ensuring that we have healthy workplaces, healthy communities, and a healthy economy.

For National Women’s Health Week, women, workers, employers, policymakers, and the public should all take a pledge to pass public policies that improve job quality and women’s health.

Apr 20, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

L.A. Sick Days Victory Packs Equity Punch

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Yesterday, Los Angeles became the latest city to pass a paid sick days law, joining more than two dozen other jurisdictions across the country that enable workers to earn a minimum number of paid sick days per year. Every such win is a critical step forward for working families, but L.A.’s victory is especially important because of scale and scope. L.A. is the second-largest city in the U.S. and home to the most low-wage workers. Further, the new law offers the most expansive definition of what constitutes a family of any paid sick days law in the country. It will also reduce racial inequities in access to paid sick time. For example, 60 percent of Latino workers lack access. Finally, by bringing enforcement to the local level, it may increase the odds that workers will get their due. 

With L.A.’s new labor standard, workers in the city will be able to earn twice the number of sick days as currently required under the state law—up to six days, or more if the employer chooses.

It’s an important step forward for Angelenos. That’s because, behind the looming Hollywood sign, L.A. is home to thousands of workers earning barely enough to put food on the table. For these workers, losing a day’s pay to take a child to the doctor might mean missing a rent payment or skipping a utility bill. And too often, workers who return from taking a day to recover from the flu may be told to go back home—because they’ve lost their job. 

Prior to passage of California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (AB 1522) in 2014, a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that more than half of L.A. workers lacked access to paid sick time, with pronounced racial and ethnic disparities. Access was startlingly low for certain groups, including Latino workers (60 percent lacked access); part-time workers (80 percent lacked access); and full-time workers earning less than $15,000 per year (76 percent lacked access). Yet, L.A. is nearly 50 percent Latino and its workers have lower median earnings than their counterparts in other major cities.

When AB 1522 passed in 2014, the vast majority of these workers gained access to sick days—but only three days per year. Even though this was progress, it was far below the number of days typically guaranteed for workers in other paid sick days laws, and insufficient to offer the insurance that most workers need when they must recover from a more serious illness (the CDC says that flu can be contagious for five to seven days after flu symptoms emerge) or to care for sick family members. Now, with L.A.’s new law, these workers will have decent coverage for themselves and their loved ones.

Being able to care for family members is an important aspect of sick days laws—almost all of us have people in our lives that we support, and sooner or later we’ll need to take some time to help them recover from illness or visit a healthcare provider. While most sick days laws allow workers to care for their family members, today’s definition of family is constantly shifting, and traditional language may limit workers’ ability to care for their loved ones. L.A.’s new law defines family members as those related to the worker either by “blood or affinity” —which means that caring for your chosen family is valued just as much as caring for your biological family. It’s an especially important provision for many members of the LGBTQ community, and by adopting this language, L.A. leads the nation in taking up a contemporary and progressive vision of the family.

L.A.’s law will also help to ensure effective enforcement of sick days—an especially important goal in a city that has been called the wage theft capital of the country. At present, the state is stretched thin in its efforts to enforce AB 1522. But the city is currently setting up a strong Labor Standards Bureau to enforce its minimum wage and wage theft laws—and this office will take up sick days enforcement, too. In several other major cities, local enforcement is making labor standards more meaningful for the workers they are meant to protect, and chances look good that L.A. will join them.

The L.A. City Council should be commended for adopting a strong law that will make its historic minimum wage law even more meaningful; when workers don’t risk losing their jobs or their wage to take a sick day, they truly reap the benefits of $15 per hour. But as with all labor standards, advocates and policymakers must keep up the fight, even after passage—a law on paper is only as good as the mechanisms that ensure its enforcement.

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