Recently, some members of the House announced a bipartisan paid leave task force. That’s a really important subject, and it’s important that people know the facts about paid leave as the government contemplates any policy reforms.
Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.” Can you spot which of the following statements about paid leave is a lie?
A. Most American workers have access to paid time off.
B. Government-dictated benefits increase flexibility and improve the paid leave situation for employees.
C. Female workers suffer harmful unintended consequences from mandated leave policies.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A. TRUTH! Most employers provide some form of paid time off to workers. Nearly 80% of full-time civilian workers have access to paid vacation time, 79% have access to paid sick leave, and a quarter have access to paid family leave. And more than a third of part-time workers have some access to paid leave. Most companies offer paid time off for their employees as well: 95% of companies offer paid sick leave, and 98% offer paid vacation days. Focusing on one category of leave (such as parental or sick leave) ignores the options currently available to workers including using more than one type of leave.
B. LIE! Government-dictated benefits actually reduce flexibility and will leave millions of employees worse off. Because government-imposed employer paid leave mandates create new costs for businesses, employers will likely make up for new costs by cutting take-home pay for workers or increasing prices. Additionally, government mandates impose a one-size-fits-all benefit that does not consider the unique needs and circumstances of workers. Many workers would have less generous leave benefits, rather than more generous ones. Instead of a rigid government one-size-fits-all regime, workers and employers should be free to negotiate mutually-beneficial work arrangements.
C. TRUTH! Mandated leave policies can lead to women facing lower take-home pay, fewer jobs, and fewer leadership opportunities. Women want equal access to opportunity and should not worry that their gender will weigh against them in the workforce. Employers know women—particularly of childbearing age—are more likely to use such paid leave programs than men, and it may discourage them from hiring young women or considering them for leadership positions. Government programs should not lead to fewer opportunities for women’s advancement or pick winners and losers among workers with families and those without.
We all want every American family to have access to the time they need to balance work and family life. We can do more to make this a reality. But every family is different. One-size-fits-all solutions often do more harm than good. We should understand the tradeoffs of various policy proposals. Ultimately, the best solution allows families, businesses, and communities to work together to provide maximum opportunity and flexibility.
To learn more about paid leave in the U.S., check out IWV’s Paid Leave Communications Kit.