SHRM Seeks to Change Debate on Paid-Leave Policies

By Bill Leonard May 11, 2009

In an effort to refocus the political debate and dialogue on paid-leave policies, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has proposed a comprehensive public policy outlining a new set of workplace flexibility principles.

“We believe employers should be encouraged to provide the paid leave their workforces need and let employees decide how to use it,” said Laurence O’Neil, president and CEO of SHRM. “Providing some agreed-upon amount of paid leave for workers should be considered as a way for employers to satisfy federal, state and local leave requirements.”

To help guide public policy and craft employee leave legislation, SHRM sent letters and copies of the Principles for a 21st Century Workplace Flexibility Policy to members of Congress and the Obama administration.

“SHRM believes employers, not the government, are in the best position to know the benefit preferences of their employees,” O’Neil said.“HR professionals have decades of experience in designing and implementing programs that work for both employers and employees. We’re eager to share this expertise with policymakers and welcome a positive dialogue on a workplace flexibility policy for the 21st century.”

According to Michael Aitken, SHRM’s director of government affairs, the principles will offer a new approach to federal leave policy by encouraging employers to provide paid leave voluntarily in exchange for no longer being encumbered by certain complex federal rules.

“If employers develop leave policies that meet certain requirements, then they would be in a safe harbor,” Aitken said. “We want to change the dialogue on paid-leave policies and offer some new thought and direction that work for both employers and their employees.”

Rather than an inflexible government mandate, SHRM has outlined an approach that would define the parameters of the safe harbor clearly and would help shape a federal policy that would:

  • Encourage employers to offer uniform and coordinated paid leave.
  • Create administrative and compliance incentives for employers who meet the leave standard.
  • Provide certainty, predictability and accountability for employers and employees.
  • Allow for different work environments, industries and organizational size.

Democratic leaders in Congress and the Obama administration have indicated that they would like to pass some form of paid sick leave legislation in 2009. Sources familiar with the issues say that Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and other leading Democrats could reintroduce the Healthy Families Act soon. The legislation would be similar to a 2007 proposal (S. 910) that stalled in the 110th Congress.

SHRM released data from a survey of 507 HR professionals revealing that nearly nine out of 10 organizations provide some form of paid vacation leave to full-time employees. The survey found that eight out of 10 respondents provide some form of sick leave. Approximately 42 percent of the respondents offered sick leave through a paid time-off plan that allows employees to use leave for illness, vacation or personal reasons.

“A solid benefits program makes it easier for organizations to attract and retain great employees,” O’Neil said. “Both employers and employees want a workplace characterized by fairness, balance, flexibility and freedom of choice. We’re ready to take the lead in working with all parties to find a solution for America’s workers, their families and employers.”

Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM Online.


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