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Paid Sick Days Bill Teed Up; Groups Start Dialogue on Flexibility

May 15, 2009
Related Topics: Future Workplace, Benefit Design and Communication, Health and Wellness, Latest News
Legislation that would ensure paid sick leave for American workers has been modified because of employer concerns about the way that time off was provided in a previous version of the bill, according to Capitol Hill staff and advocates.

Under the measure, which will be introduced within days, employees would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work up to a total of 56 hours—or seven days—annually, said Karen Minatelli, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Minatelli spoke at a Capitol Hill event Thursday, May 14, a few days in advance of the expected introduction of the measure, the Healthy Families Act.

The advent of the bill is part of a flurry of recent Washington activity on flexible work. On May 7, the Society for Human Resource Management issued a set of workplace leave principles that it hopes will form alternatives to bills like the paid sick leave measure.

On Wednesday, May 13, a group called Workplace Flexibility 2010 released a framework to guide the development of flexible work policy.

The version of the paid sick leave bill that failed to win approval in the previous Congress required companies with 15 or more employees to offer seven paid sick days.

Employers said that provision was confusing and recommended an accrual process, according to a Senate labor committee aide who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The bill also would allow time off to employees who are victims of domestic violence and would require medical certification for more than three days off in a row.

But the business community continues to have reservations about the upcoming bill, including how it defines full-time employees and how it would affect paid time off.

The labor committee aide said that if a company’s PTO plan could be used for the same purposes as the sick day legislation and under the same circumstances, it would put the company in compliance.

“If an employer already offers PTO, they won’t have to make any changes,” Minatelli said.

But SHRM and other groups worry that the measure will set out a series of requirements that undermine PTO offerings.

In an attempt to get ahead of the bill, SHRM released its flexible work principles last week in a letter to each member of Congress. Under the SHRM proposal, an employer that voluntarily provides a specified number of paid leave days would be protected from further federal, state and local leave requirements.

The idea is to ensure flexibility to the employee and predictability to the employer, said Mike Aitken, SHRM director of government affairs.

“We want to try to start a dialogue before people get entrenched in reaction to a specific piece of legislation,” Aitken said. “We’ve talked to both Republicans and Democrats. The reaction has been fairly positive.”

Starting conversations about novel work schedules also is the goal of Workplace Flexibility 2010, a policy initiative at Georgetown Law School.

On Wednesday, the group introduced a plan designed to guide congressional work on the issue.

“Our principal policy recommendation is that integrating flexible work arrangements into the workplace as standard operating procedure for doing business requires a commitment from all levels of government, and from the private sectors, in a comprehensive, not scattershot, campaign,” the report states.

The paper defines flexible work arrangements as agreements that offer employees latitude in their schedule, the amount of time they work and the place where they work.

In an attempt to make flexibility the “new normal,” the initiative is embarking on a national advocacy campaign that will include providing employers and employees with information and training and encouraging the federal government to be a role model.

One company that is embracing the concept is Deloitte. The consulting firm has implemented programs that enable employees to craft a unique career path, take time off without severing connections to the firm and work remotely.

The result has been increased productivity, retention and employee engagement, according to Anne Weisberg, Deloitte director of talent.

“It’s not that people don’t want to work hard,” Weisberg said at the Wednesday event at the National Press Club in Washington. “People really need to work differently.”

Smart companies know that providing flexibility is one of the best ways to keep their top employees happy, Weisberg said.

“Talent is the next frontier in creating competitive advantage,” she said.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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