Increasingly, companies are offering workers paid leave and other benefits voluntarily. Policymakers should take care not to disrupt this positive trend, but should embrace reforms to make it easier for workers to prepare for absences from work.
First, policymakers should update the outdated Fair Labor Standards Act to give workers the option to be compensated for overtime with time-and-a-half of paid leave. Government workers already enjoy this option, and it would particularly benefit working parents, those caring for elderly parents and those with personal illnesses. Those who anticipate an absence from work and lack sufficient paid leave benefits would then have the ability to seek overtime opportunities so that they can accrue paid leave benefits for future use. This reform would also be particularly important for lower-income workers, who are more likely to be subject to the overtime regulations and are less likely to have access to employer-offered paid leave benefits.
Policymakers should also consider expanding health savings accounts (HSAs), both to allow workers to increase their contributions to HSAs so that they can accrue more assets in their accounts and to give them the option to use HSA funds to replace income lost during unpaid leave from work.
These policies won’t solve the entire challenge of ensuring that all workers have paid time off when they need it, but they are steps in the right direction. They make it easier for workers to help themselves and, importantly, would not disrupt the trend of employers offering paid leave benefits on their own.