Paid Leave More Plentiful for Professionals, Survey Finds

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Aug 21, 2012
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"Too often, many workers, particularly those who are struggling to make ends meet, have to choose between taking time off to care for a sick child or losing desperately needed wages," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis told the media on Aug. 16, 2012, after the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released survey results showing access to paid and unpaid leave by employees throughout the U.S.

According to the BLS' 2011 American Time Use Survey, 59 percent of U.S. workers had access to paid leave. In addition to paid holidays, sick leave and vacation are the most common types of paid leave. Personal days are available for some employees, as well as floating holidays for religious or other purposes.

Unpaid leave is provided by some organizations for sick days or vacation that go beyond the number of paid days granted an employee, or for time taken for personal reasons.

The BLS survey revealed that among full-time workers:

By earnings. 83 percent of those in the highest earnings range ($1,231 per week or higher), had access to paid leave vs. 50 percent of full-time employees in the lowest earnings range ($540 per week or less).

By occupation, workers holding management, business and financial operations jobs were the most likely to have access to paid leave (77 percent), while those working in transportation and material moving were least likely to have paid time off (58 percent).

By hours, full-time employees were more than three times as likely as part-time workers to have access to paid leave—71 percent compared with 22 percent.

By demographic group, only 43 percent of Hispanic workers had paid leave vs. 61 percent of non-Hispanic workers. However, little difference was found between paid time off for white and black workers (both near 60 percent) or between men (60 percent) and women (57.5 percent).

By sector, 76 percent of workers in the public sector had access to paid leave vs. 57 percent of private-sector workers.

Uses of Leave Time

Among other survey findings, during an average week:

Time away. 21 percent of workers took paid or unpaid leave, with the average time away being 15.6 hours (2 days).

Reason for leave. 6 percent of workers during an average week took leave for vacation, 5 percent were ill or needed medical care and 4 percent needed the time off to run errands or take care of other personal business.

Gender comparison. Women were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs—23 percent compared with 20 percent.

Paid vs. unpaid. 57 percent of those taking time off used only paid leave and 40 percent used only unpaid leave, while 3 percent used a combination of paid and unpaid leave.

Paid Leave Among SHRM Members

According to the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM’s) 2012 Employee Benefits member survey, paid holidays were provided by 97 percent of SHRM members, while other paid time off included bereavement leave (89 percent), a paid-time-off (PTO) plan combining vacation, illness and personal days (51 percent), paid vacation (43 percent), floating holidays (40 percent) and paid sick leave (33 percent).

In addition, 26 percent of organizations offered paid personal leave separate from vacation and sick leave, 24 percent offered paid family care leave and 16 percent offered paid maternity leave.


Ability to Adjust Work Schedules

The BLS found that 56 percent of workers were able to adjust their work schedules or the location of their main jobs instead of taking time off from work, and that during an average week 7 percent of workers chose to do so.

In addition:

Of those with a bachelor's degree or higher, 61 percent were able to adjust their work schedules or location instead of taking time off from work vs. 38 percent of workers with less than a high school diploma.

Parents with a child under the age of 13 were more likely to adjust their work schedules or location instead of taking time off from work in an average week than workers who were not the parent of a child under 18 (10 percent vs. 6 percent, respectively).

Mandated Leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious medical condition and for bonding time after the birth of the child. To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee mustwork at a U.S. location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles, have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months.

State- or city-specific laws may expand on employers' requirements to provide paid or unpaid leave. For example:

California’s Paid Family Leave law, which took effect in July 2004, allows workers in private industry to take off up to six weeks a year to care for a new child or a sick family member.

Connecticut's Paid Sick Leave law, which took effect in January 2012, requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours of work, up to a maximum of 40 hours per calendar year.

San Francisco's Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, effective in February 2007, requires all employers to provide paid sick leave to each employee (including temporary and part-time employees) who performs work in San Francisco.

Seattle’s Sick/Safe Leave law,which takes effect in September 2012, requires organizations that employ at least five full-time employees, with at least one employee who performs work within the City of Seattle, to provide specified amounts of paid sick leave based on the number of full-time employees.


Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.​

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