In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

May 12, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

To Support Moms, Pass Family-Friendly Policies not False Promises

By Pronita Gupta

Mother’s Day is an important opportunity to reflect on the critical ways that working moms contribute to the economic health and security of their families and the nation—and why it’s more critical than ever for them to have high-quality jobs that pay fairly and provide time to care for their families.

Today, more women with children are working than ever before. In just forty years, the labor force participation rate for mothers has increased from 47 percent to 70 percent. This equates to over 25.1 million mothers with children under age 18 in the labor force, representing more than a third (34.2 percent) of working women. Women of color, especially Black mothers, have always worked at a higher rate. Moreover, women have become the sole or primary breadwinners in 42 percent of families and co-breadwinners in 22.4 percent of families. Nonetheless moms also continue to be the primary caregivers of both children and elders in their families.

The increase of women in the workforce improves the economic security of their families and is essential for the economic health of the United States.  However, after consistently rising over the past 30 years to almost half the workforce (46.8 percent), women’s labor force participation rates are starting to plateau.  One of the key contributing factors to this plateauing is the lack of job quality standards in the workplace. When working families have access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and flexible and predictable schedules, they are better able to care for their own needs and their families’ needs without losing a paycheck or their job.  For example, studies have found that when women take paid family and medical leave to bond with a new child, they are more likely to return to work after their leave and increase their hours and wages.

However, most working mothers face significant challenges balancing work and family demands. Rising economic inequality and wage stagnation coupled with unpredictable work schedules and a lack of paid sick days and family leave end up pushing too many families further into economic insecurity, including poverty for too many. Nearly 95 million workers have no paid family leave, and more than 40 million workers have no access to paid sick days. A significant majority of those without these work-family policies are low-income women and women of color. Many low-wage, working mothers lose their jobs due to a lack of sick days—and job loss after giving birth is quite common, particularly among women of color. Additionally, a recent study found that 40 percent of hourly workers receive advance notice of only one week or less about their job schedules. Such unpredictable scheduling can make it extremely difficult for a mother with young children to make appropriate child care arrangements or even to  budget funds for family needs such as rent and food.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, which proponents claim would help alleviate some of the challenges facing working families. However, this misleadingly named bill would only further erode critical labor protections working families need. The bill would allow employers to offer compensatory time (comp time) in lieu of overtime when an employee is asked to work more than 40 hours in a week. However, workers wouldn’t have a guarantee they can use this comp time when the need arises; employers have discretion over when the worker can use the comp time. This means that a struggling, low-income single mother who may rely on overtime to make ends meet could end up foregoing much-needed income and might not gain any additional flexibility if she can’t use the comp time when she actually needs it. Fortunately, members of Congress have introduced several viable proposals, and many similar policies have been successfully implemented at the state and local level. These proposed federal policies include:

  • The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1516/ S. 636) would ensure millions of workers have access to earned sick days. Similar legislation has been successfully adopted in seven states and thirty-two localities. 
  • The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (H.R. 947/ S. 337) would create a national paid leave insurance program, modeled on the successful programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, that allows workers to take paid leave to care for a new child, seriously ill family member, or for their own serious illness.  
  • The Schedules That Work Act would ensure workers have the right to request more flexible or predictable work schedules and provide retail, restaurant, and building cleaning workers with advance notice of their schedules and compensation for last-minute schedule changes.

Even Federal Reserve Chairwomen Janet Yellen recently acknowledged the critical role that women in the labor force play in strengthening the country’s economic health. Yellen underscored the need for better family-friendly work policies to enable this to happen.

Working mothers deserve quality jobs that provide critical workplace supports. These policies can also increase gender equity in the home and in the workplace. So this Mother’s Day, instead of bad policies such as the Working Families Flexibility Act, let’s pass sound family friendly policies that truly make a difference in working mothers’ lives.

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Mar 30, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Small Business Support for FAMILY Act

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Small businesses would welcome a paid family and medical leave insurance program, according to a new poll by Small Business Majority (SBM) and Center for American Progress (CAP). The poll finds that 70 percent of small businesses support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a federal paid family and medical leave program.  These findings add to the strong body of evidence that paid leave public policies do not burden employers.

In addition to supporting the idea of paid family and medical leave, small businesses believe in the specific model proposed under the FAMILY Act. The FAMILY Act would be funded by small employee and employer contributions. It would enable workers to receive up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off to care for a new child or sick family member or to recover from their own serious illness.

The social insurance model for paid family and medical leave resonates with small businesses, enabling them to offer a highly-valued benefit without footing the entire bill. California’s paid family leave program, which serves as a model for the FAMILY Act, is a strong example. California restaurant owner Jennifer Piallat explains: “Our state program helps me offer paid family leave to my employees—another tool for me to retain great workers who are loyal to the restaurant—without having to shoulder the cost by myself.” Dan Teran, co-founder and CEO of Managed by Q, a fast-growing office maintenance start-up, also notes the importance of the social insurance model in his industry: “This program helps us offer a critical support to our staff without having to shoulder the full cost of these leaves, which is a challenge in an industry where every worker who is absent must be replaced.”

SBM's and CAP’s poll also highlights remarkable growth in business support, which has increased 25 percentage points since 2013. Additionally, the poll shows overwhelming support for expanding job protection policies—which guarantee workers’ job security while they’re taking leave—to all businesses with 20 or more employees.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about the impact of paid family and medical leave insurance. Last week, Pew reported that while Americans overwhelmingly support universal paid family and medical leave, they mistakenly believe it would hurt small businesses. This contrast between public perception and small business owners’ views  demonstrates the importance of hearing employers tell the real story: paid family and medical leave insurance supports workers, strengthens businesses, and promotes economic growth.

President Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton both expressed support for paid leave in last year’s campaign. However, their visions for paid leave were radically different. SBM's and CAP’s poll represents a wide range of political ideologies; 44 percent of respondents identified as Republican, 32 percent as Democrat, and 16 percent as independent. The majority of these small business owners are sending Congress a clear message: the FAMILY Act is the right approach to paid family and medical leave.

Mar 15, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

DeLauro and Murray Push to Guarantee Paid Sick and Safe Days for Workers Nationwide

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

At a time when millions of Americans’ health insurance—and health—is imperiled by an attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), at least one bill introduced in Congress could have a positive impact on public health. Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Healthy Families Act (HFA), which would give all workers access to sick days. The bill has far-reaching implications for the health of the nation, ensuring that workers would no longer have to choose between keeping their jobs and maintaining their economic security, on the one hand, and caring for their family’s health, on the other.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 41 million workers—many of whom work in low-wage jobs—lack paid sick days. As a result, restaurant workers prepare food while sick, risking their own and their customers’ health. Sick children who are sent to school find their recovery from illness is delayed and their peers’ health is threatened. Business productivity goes down, while employee turnover goes up.

But the HFA would curb these senseless burdens on working families, employers, and the economy. Under the Healthy Families Act (HFA), people working at companies and organizations with at least 15 employees would be able to earn up to seven paid sick and safe days per year. The days could be used to obtain preventive care or seek treatment for a medical problem, to care for an ill family member, or to seek services related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employees of smaller businesses would be able to earn the same number of unpaid but job-protected sick and safe days, meaning their employers could not fire them or otherwise retaliate for their use of the days.

HFA was reintroduced with its largest number of co-sponsors ever—31 in the Senate and 108 in the House.  This strong Congressional support mirrors the great momentum propelling the paid sick and safe days movement nationwide. Since 2006, seven states and over two dozen cities and counties have passed laws requiring employers to provide paid sick days. (Nearly two dozen of the jurisdictions include safe days provisions.) Further, thanks to the U.S. Department of Labor’s final rule codifying an executive order from former President Obama, all workers on federal contracts that have taken effect since January 1, 2017, now earn paid sick and safe days as well. This final rule alone will eventually affect about 1.15 million workers. The laws thus far have led to reduced spread of illness while helping businesses save money. HFA will build on the success of these state and local laws to improve the health and financial security of tens of millions more workers.

CLASP strongly supports the Healthy Families Act and urges Congress to act swiftly to pass this legislation. 

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