Leave Benefits in the United States

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In addition to their jobs, workers have obligations — civic, familial, and personal — to fulfill that sometimes require them to be absent from the workplace (e.g., to serve on a jury, retrieve a sick child from day care, or attend a funeral). The U.S. government generally has allowed individual employers to decide whether to accommodate the nonwork activities of employees by granting them leave, with or without pay, rather than firing them. In other countries, national governments or the international organizations to which they belong more often have developed social policies that entitle individuals to time off from the workplace (oftentimes paid) for a variety of reasons (e.g., maternity and vacations). Public policies specifically intended to reconcile the work and family lives of individuals have garnered increased attention among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the United States, which is an OECD member, congressional interest recently has coalesced around family-friendly paid leave proposals (e.g., H.R. 1542 and S. 910, S. 1681, S. 80 and H.R. 3158). They would entitle workers to time off with pay to accomplish parental and caregiving obligations to help women in particular balance work and family responsibilities because they are the typical family caregiver and a majority of women in the U.S. population are in the labor force. Currently, there are few federal statutes that pertain directly or indirectly to employer provision of leave benefits for any purpose. This report begins by reviewing those policies, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) programs, which five states have established to compensate for lost wages while workers are recovering from nonoccupational illnesses and injuries, are discussed as well. So too is California’s Family Disability Insurance program, which extends TDI to employees caring for family members. The report then examines the incidence of different types of paid leave that U.S. employers voluntarily provide as part of an employee’s total compensation (wages and benefits). For example, vacations and holidays are the most commonly offered leave benefits: more than three-fourths of employees in the private sector receive paid time off for these reasons. Access to leave by various employee and employer characteristics also is analyzed, with particular attention focused on paid sick leave, which is offered to 57% of private sector employees. The report closes with results from a federal government survey of the average direct cost to businesses of different types of leave. Indirect employer costs that might arise in connection with some types of leave more than others, such as the greater likelihood of hiring and training temporary replacements for employees absent because of maternity versus bereavement reasons, are not included. Neither are estimates of potential gains to employers (e.g., a more stable and experienced workforce, increased productivity due to greater worker morale) and society (e.g., improved public health, lower formal caregiving costs, and broader participation in civic affairs).
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leave benefits; public policy; employer costs
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