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. …
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.
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.
The City Council in Austin, Texas voted last week to approve a new ordinance requiring employers in the city to provide paid sick leave to their employees, the Texas Tribune reported:
At a meeting where over 200 people came to testify — a majority of them supporting the ordinance — the council voted 9-2 to implement the policy. But hours after the rule was passed, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, sounded off against the bill, saying the ordinance is “declaring war” on small private businesses.
The new rule mandated that private employers allow their workers to accrue up to 64 hours, or eight days, of paid sick leave per year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees could have paid sick days up to 48 hours, or six work days. The passed ordinance is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1, making Austin the first Texas city to pass a paid sick-day ordinance.
Workman and other Republicans in the state legislature have already promised to pass legislation at the state level to prevent Austin’s policy from going into effect. This type of preemption legislation has been used in other states with conservative governments to stop liberal cities from enacting their own local employment laws: In the past year, Indiana banned cities from implementing “ban-the-box” laws, Missouri passed a preemption law to prevent cities like St. Louis from legislating higher minimum wages, and a Florida court found that a minimum wage increase in Miami Beach was preempted by state law.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott expressed interest last year in passing a similar law to throttle progressive local legislation, and the state already bars cities from raising the minimum wage, introducing rent controls, or instituting some forms of inclusionary zoning, CityLab‘s Sarah Holder adds.
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A new Maryland law requiring most employers in the state to provide paid sick leave for their employees came into effect this week after the state House rejected a Senate effort to delay it until July, CBS Baltimore reported on Wednesday:
While most Maryland employers provide paid sick leave, analysts estimated about 700,000 people didn’t have the benefit which this law will now change. …
It applies to businesses with at least 15 employees, providing one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, and businesses with fewer than 15 get unpaid job protective leave, which also applies to part-time workers. … This law requires businesses to provide five days of sick leave for full-time employees. Backers of the policy see it as an overall benefit for both companies and their staff.
Like sick-leave laws passed recently in other jurisdictions like New York City, Maryland’s law also allows employees to use their sick leave entitlement to address matters of domestic violence, such as going to court to obtain protective orders against abusers or dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.