Wisconsin should expand eligibility for family and medical leave, and establish fully paid leave by 2020 so that workers do not have to choose between their jobs and having or caring for their children, themselves or an ill relative.
What’s the Problem Addressed?
We all get sick from time to time, and when we do, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and most medical professionals recommend that people stay home.1 In Wisconsin, many workers can’t stay home when they or a loved one needs care, either because they don’t fall into the rigid categories established by state and federal law, or because they simply can’t afford to take the time off. The United States is one of the only developed countries that does not guarantee workers paid family and medical leave,2 and while several states have implemented paid leave, Wisconsin is not one of them. Wisconsin workers are eligible for unpaid sick leave under state and federal law, but many workers are cannot get time off due to technicalities. For example, current federal and Wisconsin law grants no time off (paid or otherwise) to take care of siblings— a worker’s job is protected if they need to take time off to care for parents and children, but they are out of luck if they need to care for their brother or sister. Today, people in Wisconsin are not protected or paid if they take time off to deal an emergency if:
Our current leave policies reduce the long-term health of everyone in Wisconsin. A person’s life-long health is substantially determined by the age of two, and adverse impacts early in life, like poverty caused by lack of parental paid leave, have lasting negative effects on children’s health outcomes. Policies that promote health and wellbeing in the first years of life, like paid family and medical leave, have the greatest long-term impact on health outcomes.4
The absence of paid leave also creates a significant and totally unnecessary public-health risk. During the 2009 flu season, nearly 8 million Americans went to work sick, and ended up infecting another estimated 7 million people.5 Compared to workers without access to paid leave, workers with paid leave were 28% less likely to experience non-fatal injuries on the job, with workers in high-risk industry sectors, such as construction, manufacturing, and agriculture experiencing the greatest reduction in injuries with access to paid leave.6
Forcing workers to work when they or their family members are sick is not only deeply unjust, but also economically unsound. Savings achieved by restricting paid leave are largely illusionary: women without paid leave are more likely use SNAP food stamp assistance or TANF welfare programs.7 Further, CDC researchers estimate that from 2007 to 2014, the absence of a national paid sick leave policy cost employers between $1 and $2 billion annually, and lead to 4 million more workdays lost illnesses.8 Nationally, a lack of paid sick leave costs the public at large $1.1 billion per year in the additional emergency room visits and public health spending,9 and costs workers $20.6 billion in lost wages every year.10 While employers do incur costs in providing paid leave, these are typically much lower than anticipated since most workers use only two to three days of sick leave per year.11 Instead, studies of paid leave policies have found net benefits to employers through savings in increased productivity, lower employee turnover, and reduced transmission of illness.12
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2017). Inside NIOSH:
Paid sick leave may help employers reduce costs.
Nationally, a lack of paid sick leave costs the public at large $1.1 billion per year in the additional emergency room visits and public health spending, and costs workers $20.6 billion in lost wages every year. While employers do incur costs in providing paid leave, these are typically much lower than anticipated since most workers use only two to three days of sick leave per year. Instead, studies of paid leave policies have found net benefits to employers through savings in increased productivity, lower employee turnover, and reduced transmission of illness.
Establishing universal paid leave in Wisconsin is critical to restoring economic security for working families and overcoming the entrenched inequities of race, gender, and class that undermine our economy and limit opportunity for far too many people.
How OWR’s Proposal Addresses It –
Wisconsin should implement paid family and medical leave for all employees by 2020 by allowing workers to accrue paid leave on the basis of hours worked. For every 40 hours worked, employees would gain two hours of paid leave. Employees would be able to accrue up to 100 hours of paid sick leave annually, depending on employer size, and would be able to bank up to 480 hours to meet the needs of caring for themselves and their family. This time would also be available as paid safe leave for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. Workers on leave would receive two-thirds of their usual pay up to $1,000 per week, funded through payroll premiums of 0.4% split equally between employees and employers, with the typical worker paying less than $2.00 per week.13
Who Else is Doing This? –
California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York have enacted paid leave provisions, and the District of Columbia and Washington state have passed paid leave legislation that will be going into effect in 2020.14 California now covers up to 52 weeks of disability leave, while the other four states cover up to 26 weeks. New Jersey’s program provides two-thirds pay, while California provides 70% of wages for workers on leave with incomes below $20,000 and 60% for those with higher incomes.15
Additionally, the cities of Seattle and San Francisco have introduced paid leave programs similar to those proposed by OWR, and a survey of San Francisco employers conducted three years after the policy went into effect found that more than two-thirds supported it.16
Why Not Wisconsin?
Paid medical and family leave has broad political support: almost 70 percent of Trump voters support a national program for paid family and medical leave, as do 89 percent of Clinton voters.17 However, the Koch Brothers and their bought politician in the Governor’s mansion consistently oppose this kind of program, and we will need to defeat them in elections to ensure we can implement paid leave.