Access to Paid Leave and Workplace Flexibility Varies Dramatically Among Workers, Center for American Progress Report Reveals

 factory worker Latina

Juthathip Ruiz works among racks of yarn on November 23, 2015, at a factory in Pennsylvania. Source: AP/Matt Rourke

Washington, D.C. —(ENEWSPF)–April 26, 2016.   All workers, regardless of their job type or family structure, experience days when they have a conflict between work and home responsibilities and will at some point need time away from work. But while the need to take occasional time away from work is nearly universal, a new report by the Center for American Progress reveals the stark inequities of who has access to paid leave and workplace flexibility.

Using data from the American Time Use Survey, the report examines the characteristics that predict access to paid leave and flexibility, including age, race, education, occupation, job quality, earnings, the presence of children, and whether a worker provides elder care, among other characteristics. Notably, the report found that Latino workers and low-income workers were among the least likely to have access to paid leave and workplace flexibility, even when compared to otherwise identical workers.

“You shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery to have access to basic workplace standards such as paid leave, but unfortunately, that is the current state of play in America,” said Sarah Jane Glynn, Director of Women’s Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report. “Some people argue that if your job doesn’t offer the benefits you need, you can just find a better one. Our research sadly shows that is not always possible since factors such as race and ethnicity are significantly correlated with access to benefits, even when comparing workers who are otherwise similar.”

Arguably, one of the most alarming findings in CAP’s new report is the relationship between race and ethnicity and access to paid leave and flexibility. Black workers are 5.3 percent less likely than otherwise similar white workers to have access to flexible days and 7.2 percent less likely to have flexible work hours. But the effects were the strongest for Latino workers, who are significantly less likely to have access to paid leave and workplace flexibility when compared to their similar counterparts: Latino workers are 11.5 percent less likely than white workers to have access to paid sick days; 12.4 percent less likely to have paid vacation; 6.7 percent less likely to have flexible days; and 6.3 percent less likely to have flexible work hours.

“Viable and universal policies that address families’ work-life conflicts and contribute to stronger U.S. economic growth will only be possible when we acknowledge that paid leave and workplace flexibility cannot be left to the whims of individual employers,” said Heather Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and co-author of the report. “That’s why understanding who is or isn’t offered these important benefits is a critical component to designing viable policy solutions moving forward.”

The report also finds that only 15 percent of workers with earnings in the lowest quintile have access to any paid sick days, compared to 78.5 percent of those in the top earnings quintile. The same patterns hold true for other forms of leave as well: Fewer than one in five low-wage workers—19.4 percent—have access to paid vacation, compared to 78.6 percent of high-wage workers.

Other notable findings from the report include:

  • Parents and workers who have elder care responsibilities are no more likely to have paid sick days or flexibility compared to identical workers who are not caring for children or elders, highlighting that the need for these benefits is not associated with having access to them.
  • Hourly workers, workers with jobs in the service industry, and Latino workers are all significantly less likely to have access to paid sick days compared to similar individuals.
  • Older workers, full-time workers, and workers with higher earnings are all more likely to have access to employer-provided paid sick days compared to otherwise identical workers.
  • While younger workers and those who work part time report higher levels of flexibility, it is likely that this is capturing unpredictable scheduling practices rather than worker-centered flexibility.

Similar to other workplace protections—such as the right to work under safe conditions and the right to a minimum wage—paid leave and flexibility should not be left up to the generosity of individual employers. Policy interventions are necessary to address inequities in access to paid leave and flexibility, including guaranteeing all workers the right to accrue paid sick days, ensuring access to paid family and medical leave, and protecting workers with the right to request workplace flexibility.

Read the report: Who Gets Time Off? Predicting Access to Paid Leave and Workplace Flexibility by Sarah Jane Glynn, Heather Boushey, and Peter Berg

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