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:
In recent years, surveys have shown that most Americans who receive paid vacation benefits don’t take all the leave to which they are entitled. According to Project: Time Off, our reluctance to take vacations has a significant impact on the economy, leading to over $200 billion worth of lost spending. Needless to say, the travel and tourism industry would prefer that the US workforce spend those billions, leading to marketing campaigns like this one from JetBlue, which pokes fun at Americans’ underused vacation time by advertising a fake line of office souvenirs such as the “HR scented candle”:
Ads like these are not new: A few years ago, for example, Maryland’s tourism board put out a series of tongue-in-cheek commercials showing vacation days being used for boring things like running errands or doctor’s appointments instead of going to the beach. The problem with these commercials is that they assumes that the decision not to take a vacation is always up to the employee, but as we know, there are clear organizational and personal reasons behind that decision.
On Monday, August 21, a solar eclipse will be visible to all of North America, with the “path of totality”—the area where a total eclipse can be observed—stretching from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Outside the path of totality, viewers throughout the contiguous United States, as well as in Canada, Mexico, and parts of South America and Europe, will be able to see a partial eclipse.
A solar eclipse is such a rare and spectacular astronomical event that millions will go out of their way to see it. With so many Americans planning to travel to the path of totality to see the full eclipse, or at least take a break from work and go outside to take a look, US employers are preparing for a productivity hit on Monday. According to Challenger, Grey & Christmas, the eclipse could cost the US economy $694 million in lost productivity on Monday, Jonathan Berr reports at Moneywatch:
States and cities in the path of the eclipse, which stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, could suffer productivity losses of almost $200 million. … Even companies located in areas with a partial eclipse may have a “manic Monday.” Challenger, Grey estimates that the eclipse will cost the Chicago area $28 million, for example. Experts are encouraging employers to make the best of the situation by holding viewing parties and other team-building activities.
Such team-building events are not only an opportunity to boost employee engagement; they are also a way of ensuring that employees show up to work on Monday. Indeed, many employers are embracing the eclipse by holding parties, giving employees flexibility to view it, or giving them the day off entirely. Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor takes a look at how some companies have prepared for the event:
The latest research into the vacation habits of US employees shows that Americans are getting more paid vacation days from their employers, but most are leaving at least some of that time on the table. At the Harvard Business Review, Liane Davey offers some practical suggestions for getting employees to actually use their vacation time:
For some people, not taking vacation is actually a selfish move. They find it incredibly arduous to prepare everything for their absence and conclude that it’s just not worth it. It’s your role to make preparing for vacation as smooth and seamless as possible. Over the long term, establishing backups for each role and codifying processes through knowledge management make it easier for any one person to be away with the confidence that their job will be in good hands. In the short term, provide a template that allows the person to document their ongoing activities or projects and assign someone to cover each aspect. Start this conversation a couple of weeks before vacation so that as many tasks as possible can be wrapped up before the vacation begins. A smooth getaway this year will increase the likelihood that the person will take more vacation next year. …
Many employers underestimate the impact of mental health issues on their workforce, and corporate culture faces a persistent stigma when it comes to talking about mental health in the workplace, but we know that many employees suffer from mental health problems including stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression, even if they are reticent to talk about these issues with their managers. The importance of supporting employees’ mental health came into the spotlight this week when a tweet from a web developer at the software company Olark went viral on social media (and, subsequently, in the mainstream media):
The employee, Madalyn Parker, had emailed her team to alert them that she was taking two days off work to focus on her mental health; the company’s CEO, Ben Congleton, wrote back to thank her for sending the email, reminding her colleagues that they can and should use their sick leave to support their mental as well as physical health, setting an example, and fighting the stigma against acknowledging mental health needs at work. Kimberly Truong at Refinery29 caught up with Parker, who said her employers had been supportive of her since she opened up to them about her mental health:
The latest survey from Project: Time Off, an initiative of the US Travel Association, finds that US employees are getting more vacation days from their employers, but still not taking full advantage of them all. Among full-time workers who receive paid time off, the average number of paid vacation days ticked up last year to 22.6, an increase of 0.7 days from 2015. Employees also used substantially more of their PTO in 2016, with the average worker taking 16.8 days off compared to 16.2 days the year before. While this is still well below the long-term average of 20.3 days in the 1980s and ’90s, the rising trend indicates that Americans may finally be getting over their recession-era fears of taking time off, Rebecca Greenfield reports at Bloomberg:
As workers feel more comfortable in their jobs, they feel more comfortable taking days off, said Evren Esen, the director of survey programs at the Society of Human Resource Management. “During the recession and post-recession, there may have been more of a sense of, ‘I need to be there, I need to make sure my job is secure,’ and not go off and take vacations multiple times a year,” she said.
Those attitudes haven’t vanished completely. Over half of the workers surveyed are leaving some vacation time on the table, Project: Time Off found. Even as they take more vacation days, the gap between the number of days they’re offered and the number of days they actually take isn’t narrowing.
In last year’s survey, Project: Time Off found that 55 percent of Americans with paid time off had left at least some of it on the table in 2015, representing a total of 658 million days of vacation that could have been. Indeed, last year was not much any better on that front, with 54 percent of respondents having failed to use all of their vacation time and the total number of untaken vacation days increasing to 662 million. The number of forfeited vacation days—those that could not be banked, rolled over, or cashed out—declined from 222 million to 206 million between 2015 and 2016, but the report estimates the value of last year’s forfeited benefits at $66.4 billion.
The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill that would allow organizations to offer employees the option of 1.5 hours of compensatory time off for each hour of overtime, rather than time-and-a-half pay. Under the terms of the bill, employees must enter such arrangements voluntarily and can “bank” up to 160 hours of comp time to use at their discretion, but employers can refuse to give time off when doing so would unduly disrupt business operations, and can also cap accrued comp time at 80 hours.
Whether this bill will become law remains uncertain, however. A companion bill faces a fierce fight and a potential Democratic filibuster in the Senate, the Hill reports:
Democrats argue that low-wage workers who need the money will feel pressure to take time off to appease their employers. “While they say it’s voluntary and a matter of their choice, as a practical matter, it’s not,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). He called it the “Freedom to Make Less bill.”
“This bill takes away overtime pay and instead the worker gets a vague ‘IOU’ ” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.). Employees who agree to take time off, instead of receiving overtime pay, would essentially be giving their companies a loan, Democrats say.
Opposition to the bill centers on the argument that it doesn’t actually give employees any new benefits, but rather shifts the balance of power in the employer’s direction, Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson explains: