Over the coming year, Microsoft will implement a policy requiring its suppliers in the US to provide their employees a minimum of 12 weeks paid parental leave, paid at up to $1,000 per week, Dev Stahlkopf, Corporate Vice President and General Counsel at Microsoft, announced in a blog post on Thursday:
This change applies to all parents employed by our suppliers who take time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The new policy applies to suppliers with more than 50 employees and covers supplier employees who perform substantial work for Microsoft. This minimum threshold applies to all of our suppliers across the U.S. and is not intended to supplant a state law that is more generous. Many of our suppliers already offer strong benefits packages to their employees, and suppliers are of course welcome to offer more expansive leave benefits to their employees.
Our new supplier parental leave requirement is informed by important work on paid parental leave done in states, including Washington. In 2017, Washington state passed family leave legislation, including paid parental leave. This new law will take effect in 2020. As we looked at this legislation, however, we realized that while it will benefit the employees of our suppliers in Washington state, it will leave thousands of valued contributors outside of Washington behind. So, we made a decision to apply Washington’s parental leave requirement more broadly, and not to wait until 2020 to begin implementation.
Like other major US tech companies, Microsoft relies on an undisclosed number of workers employed by third-party contractors; this so-called “shadow workforce” of contract laborers, who typically do not enjoy the same generous benefit packages as those directly employed by these companies, has been the subject of growing scrutiny and recent labor disputes, as GeekWire’s Nat Levy points out. Microsoft has faced controversy over its contingent workforce in the past, most notably in a high-profile lawsuit by “permatemps” in the 1990s. The company began putting standards on labor conditions at its US suppliers in 2015, when it began requiring that those with 50 or more employees grant a minimum of 15 days of annual paid time off to eligible employees.
Microsoft’s latest move intersection of several broad trends shaping the benefits space in the US today.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday signed a suite of legislation that will make it illegal for employers to use non-disclosure agreements and other contractual provisions to stop employees from reporting or discussing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, The Hill reports:
One of the bills Inslee signed would prohibit employers from requiring nondisclosure agreements that would stop individuals from speaking out about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Another will prevent nondisclosure agreements from barring employee testimony in civil lawsuits relating to assault or harassment claims. That bill also allows those bringing the suits to conduct discovery on previous harassment claims.
Inslee also signed a new law voiding employment contracts and arbitration agreements that preclude an employee from filing assault or harassment complaints outside their companies.
Washington is the first state to take this kind of action in the wake of the #MeToo movement that revealed the still-high prevalence of sexual harassment and misconduct in the American workplace, including the statehouses in Olympia and other capitals.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, observed today, the Washington state legislature passed a landmark bill on Wednesday to introduce new statutory protections for employees designed to help close gender wage gaps and ensure equitable opportunities for men and women in the workplace. GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg has the details:
The bill updates Washington’s existing gender pay law for the first time since it was enacted in 1943. It forbids employers from instituting policies that don’t allow workers to discuss their salaries with one another. The new bill also requires employers to provide the same career advancement opportunities to all employees in comparable positions, regardless of gender.
Washington state Rep. Tana Senn sponsored the bill and worked on its language with the technology industry. She lauded support from the Washington Technology Industry Association, Moz CEO Sara Bird, and others. Senn said Microsoft had some reservations about the section of the bill pertaining to career advancement opportunities, but the company was “very actively engaged in working with us on language around that and we got to a great place.”
The Seattle area, home to a number of major tech companies including Microsoft and Amazon, has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the country, Nickelsburg adds, pointing to a study last year by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that women working in King County earn 78.6 cents to every man’s dollar.
Some businesses and lobbying groups in Washington, including Amazon, had pressed the legislature to include a provision in the bill that would preempt local governments from instituting their own gender equity laws beyond what the state would require, Heidi Groover reports at the Stranger:
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Two bills that would have all but banned the use of non-compete agreements by employers in Washington State did not come up for a vote before a February 14 deadline for moving forward in the current legislative session, GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg reports:
The House bill would have prohibited non-compete agreements for employees working fewer than 40 hours per week or earning less than 200 percent of the minimum wage. Independent contractors and employees taking a second job would have also been protected from non-competes.
The Senate bill is broader. It would have prohibited “any contract that restrains a person from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind,” except for an employee who sells all of his or her operating assets or ownership interest in a business entity to a buyer operating a “like business.” Exemptions would also have been made for partners who disassociate from a business partnership.
This is the third legislative session in which Washington lawmakers have tried and failed to pass restrictions on non-competes. Proponents of this legislation say it would help make the state more competitive with California, where the use of non-compete clauses is almost always prohibited, as a magnet for talent and business investment, particularly in the tech sector. However, Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, tells GeekWire that this comparison is misleading and that it was wise for the legislature not to rush new legislation in this regard.
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Airlines For America, a coalition of airlines including industry heavyweights Alaska, JetBlue, United and Southwest, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Tacoma, Washington on Tuesday, arguing that the mobile nature of the aviation workforce makes it impossible for them to comply with the paid sick leave laws recently enacted in Washington state and other states and cities, the Associated Press reports:
The complaint put it this way: “A flight crew departing from SeaTac International Airport, landing in Portland International Airport, and continuing to San Diego International Airport is subject to three different paid sick leave laws in a single duty period, each with its own accrual, compensation, reporting, and leave requirements.” The lawsuit seeks a ruling that federal regulation of air travel precludes Washington state’s sick leave law from applying to the airlines’ pilots or flight crews. …
The airlines say many of their employees already have generous sick leave and other benefits, and they’re covered by collective bargaining agreements. They also say that by restricting when employers can demand medical documentation for sick leave, Washington’s law will make it harder for them to crack down on fraud and abuse of sick leave policy. That, they insist, will lead to more employees calling in sick – and more flights being canceled or delayed due to a lack of adequate crew.
The airlines’ suit reflects the concern among multi-state employers that the expanding patchwork of local and state employment laws and regulations will make it harder and more expensive for them to do business across state lines or expose them to an excessive risk of litigation. This has prompted some conservative state governments to pass preemption laws barring localities from enacting their own labor regulations, while at the federal level, some lawmakers have sought to enact a national paid time off policy that would exempt employers from complying with local regulations if they met a less robust federal standard.
Washington State has joined the handful of US states that have enacted laws requiring organizations to provide minimum paid family and medical leave benefits for their employees, the Seattle Times reports, after Governor Jay Inslee signed a bipartisan bill into law on Wednesday:
The measure offers eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member beginning in 2020, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy. …
Under the new law, both employers and employees pay into the system, and weekly benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is now $1,082 — though the weekly amount paid out would be capped at $1,000 a week. Workers who earn less than the state average would get 90 percent of their income. Employees must work at least 820 hours before qualifying for the benefit.
Self-employed individuals who elect coverage pay only the employee share of the premiums, and employers with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer share. Companies that already offer such programs can opt out, as long as they are at least equivalent to the state program.
Washington’s legislature first passed a family leave mandate a decade ago, but failed to devise a plan to pay for it until this year. The state also passed a paid sick leave law last year. Other states with family leave mandates include California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, as well as Washington, DC—though New York’s law will not take effect until next year, while the District’s mandate comes into force in 2020.
In 2014, officials in Seattle voted to gradually raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. The minimum rose from $9.47 to $11 per hour in 2015 and to $13 per hour in 2016 (these figures are for large businesses; smaller employers are allowed to pay a slightly lower wage). In the past week, two studies have been published that reach opposite conclusions about the impact of these increases on low-wage employees, reigniting the controversy over whether minimum wage hikes are actually good for the people they are meant to help.
The first study, released last week by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed the effects of the $13 wage floor on the city’s restaurant industry and found no evidence of job loss as a result of the increase. The second, conducted by a team of University of Washington economists and published as a working paper on Monday at the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at a larger data set and came to the conclusion that “the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016.”
Neither paper has yet been subject to peer review.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage have jumped on the University of Washington study, which used data from Washington State’s unemployment insurance program to identify low-wage workers in Seattle and compare them to others throughout the state, as evidence that such hikes are harmful, not helpful, to low-income Americans. The findings are bound to be controversial both politically and within the field of economics, as they appear to contradict what most recent minimum-wage research has found, but many economists seem to find them credible, Max Ehrenfreund reports at the Washington Post: