sStarting next week, Starbucks workers will no longer be able to take paid sick leave company rolled For COVID-19, isolation and vaccination. Going forward, employees will have to use any cumulative sick time and vacation time they have to cover missed days in case they contract the virus — unless the state or city they work in requires pay for COVID-19.
The coffee shop chain may be the latest big American company to scrap its most generous sick leave policies, but it’s not the first. When I reviewed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Quarantine and isolation instructions 10 to five days late last year, for example, many major employers Including Walmart and Amazon Withdraw the amount of paid time off employees can take in absences related to COVID-19.
However, at the same time, state and local governments across the United States are enacting laws to ensure that businesses operating in their jurisdictions provide workers with access to a minimum amount of paid sick leave. The question now is whether sick leave will be widespread in the post-pandemic era, or will largely revert back to pre-pandemic norms.
Americans’ intermittent access to paid sick leave
When the pandemic hit the world in early 2020, the United States was the only one of 22 economically developed countries without a guarantee of paid sick time, to me Center for Economic and Political Research. More than two years later, it still is. On September 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its own Paid annual leave benefits report which showed that 77% of private sector workers took paid sick leave in March 2022. This number has hardly changed since the start of the pandemic, when 75% of them took paid sick leave.
Coverage is uneven among the working population of the United States. Large companies are more likely to offer some form of sick leave than small companies, as the chart below shows. Most polarizing is the worker’s salary: 94% of the highest paid earners take sick leave, compared to just 55% of the lowest paid earners. Such disparity is particularly worrisome given that essential low-income workers, such as daycare providers and food service employees, have no choice but to report work in person, while higher-income office workers can often perform their jobs at home.
One August analysis Of researchers at the Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank, and Boston University, they found that worker absenteeism increased 50% in the first two years of the pandemic compared to the previous two, with the largest jumps among non-white and low-income workers. The data underscores the fact that disadvantaged populations are more likely to miss work due to personal or family illness, in part because their jobs have less flexibility.
At the same time, workers in this demographic are generally less likely to receive paid sick leave benefits when they are unable to come to work. The Urban Institute report found that while the rate of unpaid absence increased by about 60% overall, it rose by 74% for black workers, and 83% for workers in households with salaries between $25,000 and $50,000.
These findings matter because the pandemic has spurred governments and employers to offer more generous vacations — but these efforts do not cover all Americans, and the most vulnerable have been left behind. In March 2020, the federal government introduced paid leave for the first time under the First Families Act to respond to the coronavirus, giving two weeks to workers who were sick or were caring for a sick family member. The ruling was narrow, excluding companies with 500 or more employees and allowing small employers to get an exemption. Furthermore, it was temporary, expiring about nine months after its age.
Some states and smaller jurisdictions have created or expanded paid leave laws during the pandemic, providing Americans with sporadic protections depending on where they work. Currently, 16 states have paid time off laws, up from 10 prior to 2020, according to September Summary of the rules I collected it state border, a nonpartisan news service funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts that tracks state politics, and A Better Balance, an organization that advocates for enhanced work-family policies. But at the same time, at least 17 states, most of which do not have their own paid time off policies, explicitly prohibit cities and counties from enacting paid leave laws at the local level.
“Our approach in the United States is ME to economic failure and public health disaster,” says Shantel Boyens, a policy fellow at the Urban Institute who co-authored the paper. “We’ve had a lot of federal, state, and local actions — even private employers’ actions — in response to the pandemic to provide people with paid time off, but at the most basic level, our data shows that many workers are still not covered in some way that allowed them to take paid time off when they were Sick. It’s a missed opportunity.”
Has the pandemic brought about lasting change?
However, Boyens remains optimistic that sick leave protections are moving in the right direction, and that the more state and local governments there are, the more likely the federal government will take action. But it may take a long time. President Biden’s proposal to build back better, which failed to garner sufficient support in the Senate to pass, contained a number of Social Safety Net provisions, including an original request for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which were negotiated It’s up to four weeks before that. The bill is dead.
Some experts who track benefits trends company-wide say available government data does not fully reflect the nuances of paid leave trends, and that many employers are improving vacation benefits even as they roll back COVID-19-specific benefits. Companies are providing more paid absence options to employees by allowing them to use sick time for family members or use vacation time and sick time interchangeably through a paid vacation plan, says Rich Furstenberg, principal partner at Mercer Health & Benefits that studies and evaluates benefits among large employers. pay.
For example, according to 2018 Mercer exploratory study Of employers, 18% of respondents said that sick leave should only be used for the employee’s own illness. In 2021, that number was 12%, indicating that companies are allowing some wiggle room for workers who have to care for sick family members. Fuerstenberg says this stems from human resources departments and also externally from pandemic-era laws mandating such allowances.
Similarly, in a 2018 survey, 61% of employers offered a PTO plan, rather than allocating sick time and vacation time separately. In 2021, that number rose to 68%, but the range varies by industry, as the chart below shows.
“It’s still in that direction of flexibility,” Fuerstenberg says. “You can work things out between you and your manager — even among the non-exempt hourly population — rather than Big Brother keeping an eye on.”
Whether paid sick leave builds momentum in a meaningful way will also depend on the demands of the workforce. The pandemic has prompted employees to reassess their family time, physical health and mental well-being. Even if their local laws do not require paid sick leave, many workers will search for the best work options for their lifestyle, perhaps preferring employers that offer generous benefits.
Alex Alonso, chief knowledge officer for the Society for Human Resource Management, believes that worker expectations — perhaps more than labor laws — will determine the direction of paid leave in the future. Even before the pandemic, he says, paid time off laws expanded within a specific industry when employers had to compete with each other for talent. The pandemic has only increased that pressure.
“Employees were aware that the employer is the supervisor of the wellness programs at [their] Alonso says. “Vacation and paid leave are part of wellness. Today, talent has the upper hand.”
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