Over the past two years, we’ve seen a growing number of organizations leverage their HR strategies as a means of enhancing their employer and consumer brands simultaneously. The idea behind this “HR-as-PR” strategy is to make the organization more attractive to candidates—a growing concern in a tight labor market—while also cultivating a reputation among increasingly values-focused millennial customers as a progressive or socially conscious company.
Viewed through this lens, Rent the Runway CEO and co-founder Jennifer Y. Hyman’s recent op-ed at the New York Times illustrates the emergence of a new theme in HR as PR: ensuring that different classes of employees enjoy equal access to benefits like parental leave:
Like so many companies before us, my company, Rent the Runway, had two tiers of workers. Our salaried employees — who typically came from relatively privileged, educated backgrounds — were given generous parental leave, paid sick leave and the flexibility to work from home, or even abroad. Our hourly employees, working in Rent the Runway’s warehouse, on the customer service team and in our retail stores, had to face life events like caring for a newborn, grieving after the death of a family member or taking care of a critically ill loved one without this same level of benefits.
I had inadvertently created classes of employees — and by doing so, had done my part to contribute to America’s inequality problem. …
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.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill into law on Wednesday that will require employers throughout the state to allow nearly all employees to accrue paid sick leave, Matt Arco and Brent Johnson report at NJ.com:
The law—which takes effect in six months—will require employers in the state to offer workers one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they’ve worked. Workers can use up to 40 hours of sick leave a year. Many companies in the state do offer paid sick leave. But about 1.2 million workers — about one-third of New Jersey’s workforce — still don’t have access. …
Under the law (A1827), time off may be used because the employee or a family member are ill, to attend a school conference or meeting, or to recover from domestic violence. The law allows employers to black out certain dates that can’t be taken off and exempts per-diem hospital employees and construction workers under contract.
As reported when the bill first passed the state Assembly in March, employees begin to accrue this time as soon as they start a new job but are not eligible to use it until the 120th calendar day of their employment. Employers with all-purpose paid time off policies are considered compliant with the law as long as their employees’ PTO accrues at a rate equal to or greater than that mandated by the law.
The San Mateo, California-based online polling company SurveyMonkey announced last week that it has been offering the independent contractors it employs a suite of “gold standard” medical, dental, and vision benefits, identical to those of its regular full-time employees, since January, Phil Albinus reports at Employee Benefit News:
Under the medical plan, 80% of claim costs are paid by its insurance carrier and the third-party employer pays 85% of employee premium and 50% of dependent premium. Contract and third-party employees are entitled to 80 hours of vacation and 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, including seven paid holidays, 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year and 12 weeks of paid medical leave per year. These workers can also receive a monthly subsidy of up to $260 for public transit expenses.
The divide between employees and contractors in Silicon Valley is vast: Whereas Facebook, for instance, reported a median employee salary of over $240,000 in its latest proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that number does not include the army of contractors and subcontractors who provide security, custodial, catering, and other facilities management services for the social media giant. These contingent workers don’t enjoy anything resembling the plush benefits packages Facebook offers its full-time employees, and the impact of this inequality in the high-cost San Francisco Bay Area has drawn growing criticism toward the tech sector (Facebook is by no means unique in this regard).
In our age of HR as PR, benefits inequality has become an increasingly popular subject of scrutiny on the part of investors, the public, and the press. Starbucks expanded parental leave benefits for its hourly store employees earlier this year after activist investors began asking pointed questions about the disparity in leave benefits between hourly and salaried employees and whether this difference put the company at risk for claims of discrimination. Interestingly, in the case of SurveyMonkey, the impetus to equalize benefits for contractors came not from investors or the press, but rather from employees:
Airlines For America, a coalition of major airlines including American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, seeking to either overturn or exempt their industry from the Bay State’s paid sick leave law. The airlines say the law violates the US Constitution by seeing to regulate interstate commerce, a right granted only to the federal government, and has hurt their business specifically by leading to more employee absences, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnston reports:
Airlines already provide generous paid sick leave, according to the complaint, and closely monitor attendance to maintain safety and appropriate staffing levels and to keep flights running on time. But the Massachusetts law prohibits employers from disciplining workers for sick-leave absences and requires at least a three-day absence before medical documentation is required, which the industry group said hurts airlines’ ability to investigate abuse of sick leave.
The Massachusetts law, which went into effect in 2015, requires that companies with 11 or more employees provide an hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, culminating in up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year. But flight and ground crews often accrue sick leave in ways that can’t be easily converted into hours worked, according to the trade group.
New Jersey’s state legislature on Monday passed what supporters are calling the strongest pay equity legislation yet enacted by any state in the US, NorthJersey.com’s Catherine Carrera and Nicholas Pugliese report:
The bill passed Monday, A-1, would allow victims of discrimination to recoup up to six years’ worth of back pay, up from two under current law. Damages that are proved could be tripled, and the bill would permit lawsuits not just by women but by any group covered under the state’s Law Against Discrimination, such as racial or sexual minorities.
It would also give employees a better chance at prevailing in pay discrimination cases, said Andrea Johnson, senior council for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. Workers would have to prove they are being paid unfairly for “substantially similar” work, a change from the existing standard of “equal pay for equal work.”
“There are a lot of courts that have interpreted equal work in a very narrow way to mean basically identical work,” Johnson said. “So there’s some language added to the law just to make sure that courts are doing a deeper analysis into the justification. We see too many cases thrown out for reasons that actually might be sex-based.”
The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, named after a recently retired Republican state senator who experienced age and gender discrimination during her career in broadcast journalism, passed the state Senate unanimously and the Assembly 74–2, with two Morris County Republicans voting against it. Assemblymen Michael Patrick Carroll, one of the two “no” votes, said it would lead to endless litigation.
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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.