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.
The flu season is upon us in the northern hemisphere, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting this week that the annual spike in influenza cases was just starting (later than usual) and that this year’s flu appeared to be hitting children particularly hard. While this year may not be as bad as last year, when the annual flu vaccine was only about 30 percent effective against the highly virulent H3N2 strain, which put large numbers of Americans in the hospital, the flu is a perennial winter health hazard, particularly in the close confines of a shared workspace. Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that this year’s flu could cost US employers over $17 billion in lost productivity. That’s not as much as the $21 billion it estimated for last year, but still would represent a meaningful dent in the economy:
Last year’s flu season sickened nearly 49 million people, 32.5 million of whom were over the age of 25, according to the CDC’s age breakdown of flu infections for the 2017-18 season. Last season was the worst since 2009, when that year’s H1N1 strain sickened an estimated 60.8 million people, with more than 40 million of those affected over the age of 18.
Challenger predicts 20 million workers could take four eight-hour days away from work due to the flu. Using the current employment-population ratio of 60.6 percent, and the average hourly wage of $27.48, the cost to employers could hit $17,587,200,000 over the course of the season.
A Texas state appeals court last week temporarily blocked a local ordinance in the capital city of Austin requiring employers to provide paid sick leave from going into effect, the Texas Tribune reported:
[T]he measure quickly drew opposition from local and state leaders, including a lawsuit filed in April by the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation claiming that the city measure violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act. … The ordinance had been set to take effect Oct. 1.
“Without this stay, Austin business owners would be forced to incur significant costs implementing the requirements of the ordinance while its legality was in serious doubt,” said Robert Henneke, general counsel and litigation director for TPPF’s Center for the American Future. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has lent support to the lawsuit, also praised the news, saying the issue of minimum wage is “entrusted by the Texas Constitution solely to the Texas Legislature.”
Austin’s ordinance, which the city council passed in a 9–2 vote in February, has also faced opposition from Republicans in the state legislature, who promised at the time to pass legislation at the state level that would preempt it. Other states with conservative legislatures have taken similar measures to stop local governments from enacting liberal labor 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.
New government data from the UK indicates that employees there are taking sick days off work at a historically low rate, Workplace Insight’s Neil Franklin reports:
A new report from the Office for National Statistics suggests that the number of sickness days taken by UK workers has almost halved over the past two decades to reach a record low. It dropped from an average of 7.2 days in 1993 to 4.1 days in 2017, and had been steadily falling since 1999. The total days lost for all workers last year was 131.2 million, down from 137.3 million in 2016 and 178.3 million in 1993. Since the recession, sickness absence rates have declined by 0.5 percentage points to 1.9 per cent last year. The reasons are not explored in the report but one possible explanation would be the growing number of people prepared to work when they should really take time off.
A report published in May by the CIPD and SimplyHealth on the state of health and wellbeing in the UK workplace found that presenteeism (workers showing up to work even when sick) was a growing problem, with 86 percent of employers saying they had seen staff come into work while sick over the previous year. That marked a significant increase from 72 percent in 2016 and just 26 percent in 2010, yet the same survey found that only a quarter of organizations that had seen signs of presenteeism had taken steps to mitigate it. The CIPD/SimplyHealth report also found that many employees were working while they were supposed to be on vacation, while other recent studies have suggested that many full-time UK employees aren’t taking the full paid leave benefit to which they are entitled.
Presenteeism could well be a factor in the trend identified by the ONS, Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, told Ashleigh Wight at Personnel Today.
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.