Reform of Paid Leave Benefits

By: Courtney Colobro

In an article from news publication The Week entitled “Hey American Businesses, Stop Being So Shamefully Miserly with Paid Sick and Family Leave”, writer Jeff Spross discusses arguments being made for and against paid administrative leave. Spross weighs both the moral and economic arguments posed in the debate over whether or not a set of paid leave laws should be enacted by federal and state governments. In a more-recent article from The Washington Post, writer Danielle Paquette attempts to tackle the same issue. In her article “The stark disparities of paid leave: The rich get to heal. The poor get fired.” Paquette emphasizes the wealth gap between paid leave beneficiaries and those who are not afforded the same opportunity, and analyzes the public policy initiatives that President Obama proposed during his 2015 State of the Union address that would make compensation for sick days mandatory and accessible to all Americans, not just the financially well-off. Comprehensive paid sick and family leave laws mandated by both the federal government and state governments would allow for workforce equality and increased productivity that would benefit employers and employees by creating a generally more hospitable workplace environment.

Both Spross and Paquette make a point of highlighting the disproportionate socioeconomic class gaps between those who receive paid leave benefits and those who do not.

The two writers emphasize that access to these benefits differs mainly due to their occupations. In Spross’ article, he claims that “at least 80 percent of earners in the top fourth of the income ladder get it (paid leave),” while “only a third of earners in the bottom fourth do. And only 12 percent of U.S. workers at any income level get paid parental leave.” Paquette cites data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show that “high wage earners tend to receive the benefits through employers,” and that “88-percent of private sector managers and financial workers enjoy the benefit, more than double the rate among service workers (40-percent) and construction workers (38-percent).” The financially-elite have access to an exclusive network of benefits that those in lower-socioeconomic strata do not, and the data provided by both Spross and Paquette confirms that there is a significant and inordinate disparity between the recipients of paid leave beneficiaries in this country.

Jeff Spross and Danielle Paquette share a belief that substantiates their reasoning as to why paid leave benefits are a necessity for Americans: family emergencies. Spross claims that employees who are dealing with family problems that lack the necessary paid leave to handle their business lack the options that would allow them to sort out their issues. These employees who don’t have access to paid leave benefits have to decide between taking time off from work and dealing with financial hardship, or continuing with their work, and allowing their family life to suffer, as well as their work productivity.

Spross states that “whatever costs employers avoid by not having paid sick days…is lost to the worker’s inability to perform and to the risk of passing on the bug to other employees.” Paquette makes a similar assertion by citing executive director of the advocacy group Family Values at Work, Ellen Bravo, who states that employees “keep working, through pregnancies and family deaths and the flu, afraid of losing their jobs – or simply eight hours of pay.”

“Parental leave, she (Bravo) said, is regarded an out-of-reach luxury…Those who most need it – but can least afford it – are in the most difficult position to take it…For them, what should be a joyous occasion of having a baby – or a process of recovering for a few days – becomes this period of falling into poverty, debt, bankruptcy…The fundamental contradiction in this country: Succeeding at being a provider makes you fail at being a caregiver. That is the reality for low wage workers.”

No American should have to sacrifice their health or that of their family out of fear of losing their job, and often, their main source of income due to a lack of paid leave benefits.

Spross and Paquette also assert the idea that a comprehensive set of laws is what is necessary to provide the approximate forty-three million Americans who are currently going without paid leave with some form of benefits. In President Obama’s State of the Union Address, he proposes that federal employees would be able to take up to six weeks of paid leave, as well as earning up to a maximum of seven paid sick days. The President’s proposal also involves allocating nearly two billion dollars to aide state governments in an attempt to encourage them to create local-level paid leave programs. These proposed mandates have garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats, making the path toward enacting them into law that much smoother.

Paquette and Spross conclude by saying that the complex economic system of the United States and the “unforeseen consequences” of new public policy mandates are often what individuals use to substantiate the lack of governmental interference in matters like this.

However, these policies have gained a tremendous amount of bipartisan support from politicians and voters alike. To not enact these initiatives would be an injustice to the American workforce.

Works Cited

Paquette, Danielle. "The Stark Disparities of Paid Leave: The Rich Get to Heal. The Poor Get Fired." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Spross, Jeff. "Hey, American Businesses: Stop Being so Shamefully Miserly with Paid Sick and

Family Leave." Hey, American Businesses: Stop Being so Shamefully Miserly with Paid

Sick and Family Leave. The Week, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.