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Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Enhanced Paid Sick Days in DC

By Claudia Williams

claudia williamsOn September 17, DC city councilmembers introduced the “Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013,” a proposal that would take the current DC paid sick days (PSD) law a step further in providing safeguards to workers in the District. While DC was among the first to pass citywide PSD legislation in 2008, the current law excludes a number of workers, and requires coverage only after workers have been employed by a particular employer for more than one year and 1,000 hours. The proposed amendment to DC’s existing policy, would not only expand protections to even more workers–including most tipped restaurant workers–in the District of Columbia, but also enhance enforcement and outreach efforts to reduce non-compliance reported in June 2013 by the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor.

This week, I testified before the DC City Council and shared findings from IWPR’s analysis of the probable impact of this amendment to DC employers. Using the parameters of the proposed legislation and publicly available data, IWPR researchers estimated some of the anticipated costs and benefits to employees and employers that might result from providing earned sick days to newly covered workers. Our analysis shows that if the amendment is enacted:

  • Employers of newly covered workers can expect to spend $5.60 per worker per week in providing new earned sick days in the District of Columbia (or $5.9 million per year for all newly covered workers).
  • At the same time, providing new earned sick days is expected to yield benefits of $7.9 million—or $7.45 per worker per week—resulting in a net savings for Washington D.C.’s employers of approximately $2 million annually.

While there are certainly costs associated with implementing a new paid sick days policy, IWPR analysis shows that employers can expect see the cost of implementing this new policy more than offset by increased employee productivity, reduced costs associated with less contagion of communicable diseases, and reduced employee turnover.

Apart from these not-insignificant cost savings, there are other benefits to paid sick days that are more difficult to quantify but no less significant. In DC, these benefits are likely to include: improved health and more efficient utilization of health care; improved public health through reduced spread of contagious disease; and reduced expenditures on public assistance programs due to improved family economic security. There is a growing acknowledgement that many workers have financial responsibilities and caregiving responsibilities, a burden that often falls heavily on women workers, and could be eased with better access to paid sick days.

During the hearing at the DC council, many experts–and also workers–presented their testimony on the importance of minimum wage and paid sick days. Experts highlighted that, as we continue recovering from the recession, employee benefits are more crucial than ever. Worker after worker shared their experiences of having to choose between taking care of their and their families’ health, or making ends meet at the end of the month. Waiters and waitresses shared how instead of calling in sick, they showed up to the restaurant with contagious illnesses like the flu or norovirus because they couldn’t afford to take the day off.  Given the research, and the economic realities of many Washingtonians, who benefits from not providing paid sick days to workers?

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, specializing in paid sick days and the status of women in the states. Mallory Mpare contributed to this post.

Woman server with plateHeading out this Valentine’s Day? Keep restaurant workers’ well-being in-mind.

By Courtney Kishbaugh

Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day to dine out, according to the National Restaurant Association. As couples flock to restaurants all over the country, they should keep in mind that the backhouse realities of the restaurant industry are far from romantic.

It takes a bit of research to know the issues that restaurant workers are handling on the job—like harassment from co-workers, lack of benefits such as paid sick days, and low pay—since they are not evident from within a candle-lit dining room.  But with a bit of information, diners can choose to visit food establishments that value job quality and workers’ well-being.

The restaurant industry can be an especially difficult workplace for women. The combination of high rates of sexual harassment, low wages, and unstable work schedules all disproportionately affect women, and their economic security.

Treatment that would typically incite outrage in many other workplaces is considered the norm in restaurants, and women are suffering for it. Sexual harassment is a huge problem in the restaurant industry. Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that, in 2011, almost 37 percent of sexual harassment cases reported that year occurred in restaurants, making the restaurant industry the “single largest source of sexual harassment claims.” Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that actions typically seen as unacceptable in most workplaces are customary in restaurants.

Simultaneously, the majority of people earning the tipped minimum wage is female. (The federal tipped minimum wage is now $2.13 per hour, and tips are supposed to bring the workers at least up to the regular federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.) Women tend to be stuck in lower paying positions in the kitchen or dining room, rather than rising through the ranks to salaried jobs, evidenced by the fact that women fill only 19 percent of the higher paying chef positions. Though the restaurant I worked at was high-end and earning less than the regular minimum wage was never an issue, Women’s eNews reported  that “tipped workers are more likely to fall into poverty than those who receive [the regular] minimum wage,” and that “servers rely on food stamps at nearly double the rate of the general population.”

In addition, though female servers make up the majority in casual dining establishments, a male majority workforce prevails in fine dining. This leads to further income inequality because women are not only stuck in tipped positions, but also prevented from moving into the higher paid bracket of the tipped positions. The proportion of female servers was much lower at a fine dining restaurant I worked in, and very few women worked in the salaried manager or kitchen positions, outside of the dessert and pastry shop.

The industry’s unstable work schedule disproportionately affects women, who often are primary caretakers in their families. Many restaurants stay open until the last customer leaves, while others have hours that go until three in the morning. Child care centers are seldom open at these late hours, leaving women hard-pressed to find adequate child care. Furthermore, last-minute schedule changes, based on customer volume, can make it difficult for women to make arrangements for their family, a situation already made challenging by low pay.

However, these facts should not ruin the prospect of eating out on Valentine’s Day.  Those planning on eating out should consider using the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) dining guide (available either as a PDF or as a free mobile app for smartphones) that details which restaurants pay their workers fairly and provide them with benefits, such as paid sick days. The guide covers a number of restaurants in major cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Supporting establishments that treat their workers fairly is a step in the right direction to improve the situation of restaurant staff in general, especially women, by increasing their economic security.

Courtney Kishbaugh is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is currently a student at Georgetown University.

IWPR Recommends Thorough Assessment of DC’s Paid Sick Leave Law

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

In honor of Labor Day and the 44 million workers around the country who lack paid sick leave, IWPR released a briefing paper that recommends the Auditor of the District of Columbia conduct a thorough and complete review that shows the impact of the city’s paid sick leave policy. In March 2008, the District of Columbia joined San Francisco to become only the second jurisdiction in the United States to pass a paid sick days law. Reviewing the law for the breadth of its impact on businesses, workers, and the economy, is important as legislation moves forward in other parts of the country.

Since the passage of the DC paid sick days law, the city of Seattle and the state of Connecticut also added legislation to provide workers with paid sick days. Seattle’s paid sick leave law was actually implemented over this Labor Day weekend. Other state and city jurisdictions across the country are considering similar paid sick days legislation since access to paid sick leave can be crucial for helping workers maintain their health and well-being.

Access to paid sick days is important for working families and especially important for women since they tend to be primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives. When a child needs to stay home from work because of the flu, it is important that a worker be able to securely afford the time off to be a caregiver.

DC’s was the first law to require provisions for victims of domestic violence to seek aid or services. Time off accrued under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act can also be utilized to seek medical, legal or other services to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

As one of the pioneering cities to pass a law requiring paid sick days for its workers, DC may serve as an example for other jurisdictions considering similar laws. According to research from IWPR, there are significant benefits to having paid sick days laws that impact employees, the general public, and businesses. Based on a survey of workers and employers in San Francisco who were affected by that city’s paid sick leave law, IWPR found that two-thirds of businesses supported the law. IWPR research analyses have also shown that workers who have access to paid sick days tend to have better self-reported health.

Under the current DC paid sick days law, the Auditor of the District of Columbia is required to conduct a review, based on an audit sample of District businesses, to ensure that the law is being properly implemented and that employers are not circumventing requirements through hiring patterns. But to meet the end goal of the Auditor’s report, which is to assess the economic effects of the law on the private sector, IWPR recommends a more complete assessment.

IWPR recommends that the Auditor undertake a survey of workers and employers to ensure that compliance is being undertaken. A survey of workers would help to get the full story on how well the law has been implemented or its effectiveness in covering workers who may need to take time off when they or a family member is ill. This survey would also help determine if workers are aware of the law. In surveying workers for an assessment of San Francisco’s paid sick leave legislation, IWPR found that many workers covered under the city’s paid sick leave law were not aware of it.

Also, IWPR recommends that the Auditor take advantage of data sources that already exist that can provide evidence of any net effect of the law on the number of businesses and employees in the District. Finally, IWPR recommends the creation of an advisory committee with experts on paid sick leave, lending greater context and better evaluation to the study.

The steps recommended in IWPR’s briefing paper could help to create a more effective and comprehensive assessment of DC’s Accrued Leave and Safe Leave Act that would serve as a model for other cities. Understanding how the law will is being implemented will demonstrate its full impact beyond the books, serving as a living example for other cities to help improve health and well being of their workers.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

An Introduction to Paid Time Off Banks

By Andrea Lindemann Gilliam

This blog was originally posted on the CLASP blog.

Many people have heard of Paid Time Off (PTO) banks, but the contours of such policies are often little understood, especially outside the human resources world. To shed light on PTO banks, CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) have released a report using Bureau of Labor Statistics data to explore what is known, and what needs more study, about PTO banks. This report is a first step in understanding PTO banks so that further questions about PTO banks and how they affect low-wage workers and their employers can be explored.

PTO banks are an alternative to traditional paid leave plans. PTO banks consolidate multiple types of leave (paid vacation, sick, and personal days) into a single bucket, which workers can draw upon for absences. About 19 percent of private industry employees in the U.S. have access to a PTO bank. PTO banks are more common for higher wage and full time workers and are more likely to be offered at larger businesses.

Many low-wage workers don’t have access to any paid leave at all; 41 percent of low-income working parents (with household incomes below twice the federal poverty level) do not receive paid sick leave, vacation days, personal days, or other forms of compensated leave. Low-wage workers are less likely to have access to any paid time off regardless of whether it is in a traditional form or as a PTO bank. While 51 percent of employees in the lowest wage quartile have access to paid vacation time, only 9 percent have access to a PTO bank. In comparison, 89 percent of employees in the highest wage quartile have paid vacation time and 28 percent have access to a PTO bank. This means that millions of workers face difficult decisions like whether to take a needed day off work to care for a sick child or visit the doctor and risk losing a day’s wages (or even their jobs).  Paid leave not only helps keep workers and communities healthy, but helps workers balance work and family obligations and stay productive.  Unfortunately, there is no federal standard requiring these types of paid leave.

In Washington, D.C. an employer with experience of PTO banks has good things to say about how paid leave has impacted his workers and their business. Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose, said in a recent BNA Human Resource Report article that ‘‘Some employers worry that too generous a leave policy will be abused by workers and will cost the company too much money in missed hours,” but that “employees have appreciated [their PTO policy] and it has not been abused.” Graham noted that he thinks the policy shows respect for the staff and makes economic sense. You can also see Graham explaining how Politics & Prose implemented the D.C. Sick and Safe Leave Act in a recent Spotlight on Poverty video. Spotlight on Poverty is a CLASP-managed initiative to highlight perspectives on issues affecting low-income families. In that same article, Stacey Bashara who helps run a web development firm in Chicago, discussed what PTO banks have meant for her employees. Bashara is also a supporter of the Illinois paid sick days campaign.  CLASP will continue to research and investigate PTO to identify pros and cons for low wage workers.

PTO banks are just one vehicle employers may use to give employees paid time off. While this paper is a start in understanding PTO banks, the real work is ensuring that workers at all wage levels have access to some form of paid time off so they can take care of their own health and that of their families without losing income or a job.

For more information, read Paid Time Off:  The Elements and Prevalence of Consolidated Leave Plans. IWPR has information available on Family Leave & Paid Sick days online.

Top 5 Findings of 2011

Women with lightbulbsby Caroline Dobuzinskis, with Jocelyn Fischer and Rhiana Gunn-Wright.

In 2011, IWPR released several important findings on relevant topics such as the continuing impact of the recession, increased reliance on Social Security among older Americans, and the value of paid sick days for improving public health. Read the top findings below and continue to follow IWPR or sign up for our e-alerts to stay informed on our latest research on women, families, and communities.

1. During the recovery, men gained more jobs overall than women. Contrary to the image presented by a new, widely-panned sitcom, the recovery is not proving to be easier for female job seekers. Overall, men have regained one out of three jobs lost in the recession, while women regained one of every four jobs they lost. But the last quarter of 2011 saw women making some gains in the job market: men and women had equal job growth in the past three months at 206,000 jobs each.

2. Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and some cannot afford to put food on the table. Last September, IWPR released findings from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security showing that only 43 percent of women and 61 percent of men would have the savings to pay for living expenses for a period of two months. In households with more than one person who experienced unemployment for one month or longer in the two years prior to the survey, 27 percent of women and 20 percent of men went hungry because they could not afford food.

3. Americans strongly support Social Security and have grown increasingly reliant on the program in the last decade. A large majority of Americans (74 percent of all women and 69 percent of men in the IWPR/Rockefeller survey) say they  don’t mind paying Social Security taxes for the benefits they will receive when they retire. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent to equal half of older women in 2009.

4. The number of on-campus child care centers has declined and presently can only meet five percent of the child care needs of student parents. There are 3.9 million student parents pursuing postsecondary education in the United States, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults. Access to affordable, on-campus child care has decreased, partly due to the increase of for-profit postsecondary institutions.

5. Paid sick days would reduce emergency department visits–saving $1 billion in health care costs. Access to paid sick days would eliminate 1.3 million emergency department visits per year and would save $500 million to taxpayers through public health insurance costs because regular doctors’ office visits would substitute for expensive emergency room care. Informed by research from organizations such as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid sick days legislation gained significant momentum across the country last year.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Jocelyn Fischer is Assistant to the President and Rhiana Gunn-Wright is this year’s Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow.

Paid Sick Days Could Save Billions

This week, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released Paid Sick Days and Health: Cost Savings from Reduced Emergency Department Visits, in which my co-authors and I review findings about the connection between health and access to paid sick days, using publicly-available data from the National Health Interview Survey. Our analyses show that, even after controlling for variables like race, age, income, education, chronic health conditions, and access to health insurance, access to paid sick days is associated consistently with better health, greater likelihood of seeking out prompt medical care, and lower use of hospital emergency rooms.

It may surprise some people to learn that 44 million American employees cannot take a paid sick day. If they miss work due to illness or the illness of a family member, they lose pay—and if their employer is not the understanding type, they lose their job. These workers are also unlikely to be able to take time off work to go to a doctor’s office when sick or to obtain routine or preventative care. If they become ill or need an urgent appointment, they are more likely to end up at the emergency room than workers who have paid sick days.

Our analyses suggest that if all American workers had access to paid sick days, 1.3 million fewer emergency room visits would occur each year. Because primary care is significantly cheaper to provide than care in emergency rooms, reducing the use of emergency rooms means a significant savings, even if people still go to a primary care doctor: treating common conditions at a doctor’s office is, on average, over $800 cheaper per visit than treating those conditions in emergency rooms. That means that the 1.3 million fewer emergency room visits would save Americans $1.1 billion in health costs each year.

The findings from this week’s report only scratch the surface of the benefits of paid sick days for both individuals and society. There is every reason to expect that paid sick days produce a wide array of real benefits for workers, their families, their employers, and the public:

—Paid sick days make workers less likely to go to work while sick. This means a reduction in the spread of communicable disease to coworkers and the public. During the H1N1 pandemic, a lack of paid sick days contributed to millions of H1N1 infections, with untold costs for employers, workers, and the public.

—Paid sick days help workers maintain stable employment: they are less likely to voluntarily leave a job where they have paid sick days, and jurisdictions with paid sick days laws protect workers from being fired simply because they missed work for being sick. Reducing employee turnover reduces costs for employers, so everyone benefits.

—Paid sick days for the parents of schoolchildren make them less likely to send sick children to school, reducing the spread of disease to classmates and teachers and thus reducing absence. Paid sick days for parents may mean improved school outcomes for children.

Americans are paying $1.1 billion in preventable health costs every year for emergency room visits alone. The total price tag in dollars for the lack of paid sick days is larger than anyone has calculated, but the human costs are even larger: workers and families put off needed care until conditions worsen beyond the ability of doctors to treat; sick workers spread illness to coworkers and customers; and workers are fired for getting sick, putting them and their families at risk of poverty.

Individuals and organizations across the United States are working to promote paid sick days as a solution for these problems. Groups like Moms Rising, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and numerous state and local groups share the experiences of workers and their families—backed up by information from IWPR and other researchers—to convince legislators and the public that paid sick days are a policy that benefits everyone.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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