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SHRM President and CEO Henry G. "Hank" Jackson speaks to the SHRM Pennsylvania and Garden State state councils at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26. Photo by Tony Lee
PHILADELPHIA—Paid time off when sick or for family and medical emergencies is a topic of debate during this election cycle but also a perennial challenge for employers, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
"No matter what the results of this election, we will have big issues facing us," said Henry G. "Hank" Jackson, SHRM president and CEO, speaking to members of the SHRM Pennsylvania and Garden State councils at the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
"All of the issues being debated at the conventions are people issues," Jackson said. "The issues of today are our issues: wages, health care, immigration, recent changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act. … [and] paid time off."
Currently, five states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont—have adopted statewide paid-sick-leave laws, and three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—offer paid family leave to workers when they need time to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to bond with a new child.
On the federal level, the proposed Healthy Families Act (HFA) would require nearly all employers to provide their workforce with up to 56 hours of paid sick time in a calendar year. In 2015, President Barack Obama issued an executive order which similarly requires that federal contractors allow employees to accrue up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per year. The final regulations implementing the order are scheduled for Sept. 30.
"SHRM supports efforts to assist employees in meeting the dual demands of work and personal needs and believes that employers should be encouraged to voluntarily offer paid leave to their employees," said Mike Aitken, vice president of government affairs at SHRM.
Aitken differentiated between government-mandated leave, which he said limits an employer's flexibility in designing leave programs, and incentivized voluntary leave. "Rather than a one-size-fits-all government mandate as found in the HFA, policy proposals should accommodate varying work environments, employee representation, industries and organizational size."
The concerns about mandated leave include the expense to employers and the consequent loss of other benefits or wage compression, said Jonathan Segal, a partner at law firm Duane Morris, based in Philadelphia. "If the government mandates it, it is unfunded and then where does the money come from?" he asked. "Is it reduced vacation, higher health insurance copays? As a soundbite, paid leave sounds great, but it needs to be thought out carefully, and each employer is in the best position to do that."
Tiffany Bloyer, director of HR for Franklin County, Pa., believes that organizations should have the ability to create their own sick leave policies versus being dictated by a mandate. "We have a paid time off policy for family and medical leave, doctor's appointments, and being out sick," she said.
Other employers are concerned that mandated leave will result in a loss of other benefits. "By mandating how many hours I have to give my employees in paid sick leave, it may take away another benefit that I'm providing to them," said Faith Stipanovich, SHRM-SCP, senior human resources business partner at Matthews International, a global manufacturing firm headquartered in Pittsburgh.
Another problem is the potential for leave abuse. "There needs to be more control of how family and medical leave is monitored and administered," Stipanovich said.
"Paid leave must stay voluntary because I see a lot of abuse of family and medical and sick leave," Bloyer echoed. "When we removed some sick leave, attendance and productivity increased," she added.
Segal offered a possible solution: incentivizing employers to offer paid leave in exchange for an exemption from state and local leave laws. "My clients struggle when someone asks a question about leave, and HR needs a flow chart to figure out what the answers are," he said. "If it's voluntary, it lets employers do good by their employees and save money on trying to figure out how to comply with a patchwork of laws."
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