Though the United States is one of just a handful of countries around the world that does not require organizations to grant their employees paid parental leave by law, recent years have seen more US states pursue mandates of their own, while a growing number of large, nationwide employers have voluntarily adopted more robust policies for working mothers and, increasingly, fathers and caregivers as well.
These trends have been driven by the public conversation and advocacy around parental leave, by a growing body of research showing the various benefits of parental leave to working families, and also by business considerations, as organizations struggle to attract and retain workers (particularly women) in a tight and competitive labor market. The latest research into what employees and candidates value, including Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor, shows that flexibility and work-life balance are becoming more and more important to the workforce. As millennials grow up and start families, this massive generational cohort is voicing a clear expectation that employers will support them—both moms and dads—in balancing career and family obligations.
Several developments have taken place in this area over the past month that employers should be aware of, as they illustrate the accelerating pace at which paid leave benefits are transforming from nice-to-have features to essential—and in a growing number of jurisdictions, mandatory—components of the employee value proposition.
In recent years, business leaders have become increasingly aware of the caregiving burdens affecting their employees’ lives and, by extension, their organizations. At the same time millennials, who make up the largest generational cohort in the workforce, are settling down and starting families, the baby boomer generation is aging and imposing additional elder care responsibilities on their gen-X and millennial children. In recognition of this burden, many progressive organizations have expanded their leave and flexibility offerings for employees with family caregiving responsibilities, but not all employees enjoy these benefits, particularly in the US, where there is no statutory parental leave entitlement.
A major new report from Harvard Business School underscores the significant toll this caregiving burden places on employees’ productivity, which employers may be underestimating. In their report, The Caring Company, Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman, program director of the school’s Young American Leaders Program, surveyed 1,500 employees and 300 HR leaders to gauge the impact of caregiving responsibilities on workers’ performance, the extent to which employers recognize this effect, the benefits employers are offering to help employees manage these obligations, and how these benefits are being used.
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- 80 percent of employees with caregiving responsibilities said caregiving affected their productivity, but only 24 percent of employers thought caregiving influenced performance, and 52 percent of employers don’t measure the extent of their employees’ caregiving burdens. Employers recognize, however, that work issues such as unplanned absences, late arrivals and early departures from work — which often arise as a result of caregiving obligations — negatively affect employees’ career progression.
- 32 percent of all employees said they had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities. The impact is particularly acute among millennial employees: 50 percent of employees aged 26-35 and 27 percent of employees aged 18-25 said they had already left a job due to caregiving responsibilities.
- Among those who had left a job, 57 percent said they had done so to take care of a newborn or adopted child, 49 percent to care for a sick child, 43 percent to manage a child’s needs, 32 percent to take care of an elder family member, and nearly 25 percent left to take care of an ill or disabled family member. The most common reasons they gave for leaving their jobs were that they could not find or afford paid help, or because they were unable to meet their work responsibilities and provide care at the same time.
One third of Americans under 40 have spent time caring for an older relative or friend, while another third expect to do so in the next few years, a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds. Furthermore, the burden of caregiving appears to be causing these younger adults more stress than their older peers:
These younger caregivers, age 18‑39, differ from caregivers age 40 and older in several ways. Younger caregivers spend fewer hours providing care compared to caregivers age 40 and older, who are more than twice as likely to spend 10 or more hours a week providing unpaid care (26 percent vs. 63 percent). Although they spend less time providing care, younger caregivers are more likely to report being at least moderately stressed by caregiving (80 percent) than are caregivers age 40 and older (67 percent). While caregivers age 40 and older are disproportionately female compared to the overall population (59 percent female vs. 41 percent male), this is not true of younger caregivers, who are just as likely to be male (48 percent female vs. 52 percent male).
Most caregivers say they are getting the support they need in their elder care obligations, with young adults saying they mostly rely on family for this support and often use social media to solicit the help they need. Younger prospective caregivers, not surprisingly, are more likely than their over-40 counterparts to say they feel unprepared to take on the role, but most say they expect to share these responsibilities with someone else.
The AP-NORC survey also found that most young American adults have little confidence that government safety-net programs will be there for them in their old age: only around 10 percent expect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to provide benefits at that time comparable to or better than they offer today. Younger Americans are also unsure of whether they will be financially prepared to their own elder care needs in retirement, with only 16 percent saying they were very confident that they would have the resources to meet those needs.
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While federal law in the US does not require organizations to provide their employees with paid family or medical leave, American companies are facing more pressure than ever to do so, from state governments, the labor market, activist investors, and the court of public opinion. All of the 20 largest US employers now offer some kind of paid parental leave benefit to employees who welcome a child into their families, while companies that employ large numbers of hourly workers are offering these employees paid parental and sick leave for the first time.
Of course, family leave encompasses more than maternity or paternity leave: New state family leave laws also obligate employers to grant paid time off when an employee or a member of their family experiences a serious health condition, while sick leave mandates and policies often allow employees to use that leave to care for a sick child or family member. Letting parents take paid sick leave to care for a sick child is not uncommon, but in recent years, progressive employers like Deloitte, Facebook, and Microsoft—to name just a few—have begun adopting more expansive caregiving leave policies. These companies recognize that the aging of the US population is putting many mid-career professionals, especially women, in the position of helping take care of their elderly parents and other relatives. The business case for caregiving leave is persuasive, as such policies help retain valuable talent and avoid losses due to turnover or reduced productivity.
Now that family care leave has entered the American mainstream, however, a new question has arisen: Who counts as family for the purposes of these policies? Some states and localities’ sick leave mandates entitle workers to apply their leave to caring for loved ones to whom they are not related by blood or marriage, the Associated Press’s Jennifer Peltz reports. That’s the case in the states of Arizona and Rhode Island, as well as the big cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and soon, Austin and St. Paul.
The concern among some skeptical employers and their advocates, however, is that the more-flexible family designation will encourage the abuse of sick time. But there’s a simple solution to that problem, Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard V. Reeves tells Peltz, which is to sidestep the question of defining “family” or “family equivalent” altogether and simply let workers use their sick leave to care for themselves or another person, whoever that may be. After all, this doesn’t increase the amount of leave to which employees are entitled.
Even as the Trump administration rolled back numerous Obama-era regulations at the federal level and took more employer-friendly stances on a number of hot-button labor issues, 2017 also witnessed the continued proliferation of new laws and regulations in states and localities, particularly those whose legislatures are dominated by Democrats. Many of these policy changes came into force on January 1, while others will become effective later in 2018, meaning countless US organizations will have to adjust to a new and more complex regulatory landscape this year.
Minimum Wages Rise for Millions of Workers
To begin with, minimum wages rose on Monday in 18 states, including several that passed referenda to that effect in 2016. Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington saw increases ranging from 35¢ to $1.00 per hour due to legislative or ballot measures, while the pay floors in Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota, which are pegged to inflation, rose automatically. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute calculates that 4.5 million employees in total will see their pay increase thanks to these measures—though opponents of minimum wage hikes would argue that some of these employees will be laid off as their employers can no longer afford to pay them at the new rate.
California Keeps on Being California
With its huge labor market, diverse economy, and liberal government, California is a longstanding laboratory of progressive legislation, which serves as a bellwether for emerging regulatory trends and has an impact beyond the state’s borders as multi-state employers often opt to comply with California’s stricter rules nationwide for simplicity’s sake. A number of new laws came into effect in the Golden State this week that employers there need to be aware of. Mark S. Spring, a partner at Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, breaks down all of these changes at TLNT. Here are the changes in brief:
Current federal law in the US does not require organizations to grant employees any paid time off, be that vacation, family leave, or sick days. Most companies provide some kind of paid leave as part of their rewards policies in order to be competitive in the talent market, but advocates for federal mandate say the workers who need paid leave the most (low-income, single working mothers, for example) are least likely to get it unless their employers face some regulatory pressure. Demand for this protection has led to the emergence of paid family and medical leave mandates at the state and local level.
Representative Mimi Walters, a Republican from California, is backing a bill that would encourage companies to provide two to three weeks of paid time off by exempting them from stricter state and local mandates as long as they comply with the federal policy. As Bloomberg’s Jeff Green and Rebecca Greenfield explain, the bill envisions a national paid time off policy combining vacation, sick days, and other forms of leave into one category, and legislating a federal standard for businesses to meet; liability under tougher state and local rules would apply only to businesses that failed to meet that standard.
Walters’s bill, which is supported by SHRM and other major business groups, is similar in this regard to the proposal issued by the HR Policy Association earlier this year calling on the federal government to enact a national standard for paid parental leave—not to force compliance on their members, but again to protect them against the patchwork of local regulations that are popping up. States including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as major cities like New York and San Francisco, have instituted their own sick leave or parental leave requirements in recent years. Businesses are now beginning to see a less restrictive federal policy as a better solution than no policy at all.
Another reason businesses like the bill (whose chances of actually becoming law are currently uncertain) is that unlike most of these local mandates, the proposed federal policy would allow employers to deny requests for time off. “Opponents say that’s a cruiser-sized loophole,” Green and Greenfield write:
Mothers in Switzerland are entitled to 14 weeks or 98 days of maternity leave, paid at no less than 80 percent of their average income. In contrast to other European countries, however, Swiss employers are not required to grant paternity leave to new fathers. An initiative is underway to change that, however, and a petition to mandate four weeks of paid paternity leave has garnered the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a national referendum, Ivana Kottasová reports at CNN Money:
The initiative, launched in July, calls for 20 days of paid leave for new fathers. Under the proposal, the dads must take five days off within the first 10 days after the birth of their child. The other 15 days could be taken at any point during the first six months of the baby’s life. They would receive 80% of their average income during the leave.
The Swiss parliament narrowly rejected a similar proposal in April 2016. That decision can now be overruled by the referendum. … The average paternity leave — paid and unpaid — across the EU is just over 12.5 days, so the proposed 20-day leave would be among the most generous in Europe.
Currently, Swiss fathers are allowed to take just one or two “special days off”—a generic form of paid leave for personal matters—after the birth of a child. Organizers of the petition say opinion polls show the vast majority of Swiss citizens are in favor of paid paternity leave, and that the annual cost of the mandate would be less than 1 percent what the country currently spends on pensions each year.