Picture: 123RF/ktsdesign
Picture: 123RF/ktsdesign

A new study has found strong support from US businesses for a national paid leave policy after months of navigating the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing recession.

Researchers found that 75% of US companies and UK-based companies with US operations said they support a government leave plan to help cope with future public health and economic crises.

So far during the Covid-19 outbreak, one in five US workers has taken leave of some sort. More than 40 companies of various sizes were surveyed in the study conducted by the nonprofit groups Promundo and Paid Leave for the US, which promote gender equity and paid leave policies, respectively.

The US is alone among 41 industrialised countries in not guaranteeing paid sick or parental leave, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. President Joe Biden has introduced a $1.9-trillion stimulus bill featuring temporary paid leave amid signs that support is on the rise on Capitol Hill and in corporate America for paid leave legislation.

“We’re beginning to see a real demand for a permanent public policy solution,” said Annie Sartor, senior director of business partnerships at Paid Leave for the US.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed at the onset of the pandemic included two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 10 weeks of paid family or medical leave for employers with fewer than 500 employees. It expired in December.

Biden’s current proposal includes provisions for as much as 14 weeks of paid sick, family and medical leave and a significant expansion of eligibility. The plan could reach as many as 106 million more Americans than the last emergency bill, expanding coverage to workers at companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Biden’s rescue plan was “a first step” towards permanent legislation, said Michelle McGrain, director of congressional relations at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

“The lack of paid leave in this country was a huge crisis,” she said. “That crisis has continued throughout the pandemic and will continue to exist if big structural changes are not engaged.”

Almost 45% of companies said more than half of the employees who took leave were women, who often bear the brunt of household and care-giving responsibilities.

Gary Barker, CEO and founder of Promundo, said companies with leave programmes cut their job losses, especially for women. In December, women accounted for all of the net jobs lost in the US, with 156,000, while men gained 16,000 jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It points to the importance of making leave normal for women and men, and for us to achieve the equality in salaries that women deserve,” Barker said.

Barker said companies in nations with mandatory leave had built a workplace culture that did not penalise people for taking time off.

“Workers worry about taking it,” particularly in the US, Barker said. “European countries, because they’ve been doing this for a very long time, you’re not considered a slacker because you take leave.”


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