Employers amplify the benefits of paid time off during the COVID-19 pandemic: findings from the KFF survey on employers’ health benefits in 2021 – Community News
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Employers amplify the benefits of paid time off during the COVID-19 pandemic: findings from the KFF survey on employers’ health benefits in 2021

Benefits such as sick leave and paid family and medical leave can help employees provide more financial security for their personal and family health care. This issue has taken on new urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, as workers needed time off to recover from the virus and to care for children and other family members who had fallen ill.

Unlike all other rich countries, the US does not have a national paid leave mandate. The Federal Family and Sick Leave Act (FMLA) requires some employers to provide job-protected, unpaid leave to eligible employees for informal care and medical leave, but just over half (46%) of staff are eligible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), eight in ten employees (79%) have access to paid sick leave through their employer and less than one in four (23%) employees have access to paid family leave. Data on the proportion of employees with access to paid medical leave for longer, serious illness is limited, although BLS also estimates that 40% of employees have access to short-term disability insurance.‚Äč

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some employers have announced changes to their paid time off policies to ensure more employees have access to paid time off work and to reduce the risk of employees coming off sick. This data note presents the findings of the KFF survey on employers’ health benefits in 2021 on the proportion of employees employed by companies that have started offering or expanding their paid leave since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paid sick leave: Paid sick leave can be used to recover from a short-term injury or illness such as a cold or for doctor’s appointments. It is often provided on an accrual basis up to a certain number of hours or days per year, such as one hour of earned leave for every 30 hours worked up to seven days per year, and replaces 100% of the employee’s normal wages. The average length of paid sick leave for private sector workers is seven days a year. Paid sick leave benefits are paid by the employer.

Paid family and medical leave: Paid family and medical leave usually provides a specified number of weeks or months that can be used for an employee’s own serious, long-term health condition, to care for a family member in a serious health condition, or to care for or bond with a new child, and for reasons related to the military service of a relative. This results in an average of six to twelve weeks of fully or partially paid leave per year, without accrual. Paid family leave and sick leave may be insured and are often financed by employer and/or employee wage contributions.

findings

In total, nearly four in 10 employees are employed by a company that started offering paid time off during the pandemic or expanded their existing paid time off benefits.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of employees work for a company that began to sacrifice paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave for the first time or expanded or improved those benefits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (Figure 1). This includes 31% of employees of companies that have started offering or expanding paid sick leave and 17% of employees of companies that have started offering or expanding paid family and sick leave. One percent (1%) of employees work for a company that has reduced or eliminated one of their paid leave benefits.

Looking at these changes separately, 4% of employees work at a company that is offering paid sick leave for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and 27% of employees work at a company that has expanded their existing pay or improved. sick leave benefit. One percent (1%) of employees work for a company that has reduced or abolished their paid sick leave benefits.

Three percent (3%) of employees work for a company that started offering paid family and medical on leave for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and 14% work at a company that has expanded or improved their existing paid family and sick leave benefits. Less than 1% of employees work for a company that has reduced or eliminated their paid family and sick leave benefits.

These stocks vary based on company characteristics. For paid sick leave, employees at small companies (3-199 employees) are more likely than employees at large companies (200 or more employees) to work at a company that offers paid sick leave for the first time (6% vs. 2 %) (Figure 2). Employees at large companies are more likely to work for a company that has expanded their existing paid sick leave benefits (31% vs. 18%). Likewise, employees of companies with few low-paid employees are more likely to work for a company that offers paid sick leave for the first time than employees in companies with much lower-paid employees (3% versus 7%).

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Figure 2: 3 in 10 employees work at a company that started offering or expanding paid sick leave during the COVID-19 pandemic

There is also variation by company characteristics for paid family leave and sick leave. For example, employees at small companies are more likely than employees at large companies to work at a company that offers paid family and sick leave for the first time (5% vs. 1%) (Figure 3). Employees at large companies are also more likely to work for a company that expands their existing paid family and sick leave benefits (17% vs. 10%). Similarly, employees in companies with few low-paid employees are more likely to work for a company that has expanded or improved their paid family and sick leave benefits than employees in companies with much lower-paid employees (16% vs. 7%).

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Figure 3: Nearly 2 in 10 employees work for a company that started offering or expanding their paid family and sick leave benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic

In general, small business employees are more likely to be employed by a company that: began to sacrifice paid leave during the pandemic and those at larger companies are more likely to work at a company that extensive on their existing benefits for paid leave. These findings mirror previous research showing that paid leave benefits were already more common among larger companies and less common among smaller companies.

Discussion

The COVID-19 pandemic added a new urgency to the importance of paid leave. In 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) temporarily required employers with fewer than 500 employees and all public employers to provide up to two weeks of fully paid sick leave to employees who were unable to work due to their own quarantine or coronavirus symptoms and up to two weeks partially paid leave for employees who needed time off to care for someone in quarantine. Those mandatory benefits expired at the end of 2020. (Note that our survey asked about changes companies made to regular paid leave benefits, not FFCRA’s temporary paid leave benefits.)

Paid leave continues to attract national attention, both from the public and policy makers. The 117th Congress continues to debate a universal paid family and sick leave program as part of the Build back better acting. House Democrats initially proposed that all employees in the US be given 12 weeks of paid annual leave to recover from a serious illness, care for a seriously ill relative and welcome a new child. The proposal currently under discussion was reduced to four weeks of paid leave. Whether this proposal will materialize is still uncertain. Without congressional action, the availability and generosity of paid leave will continue to depend on decisions made by employers and state and local policymakers.

While many employers have responded to the need for paid time off during the pandemic, it’s unclear whether they will ultimately retain, enhance, or scale back these new or improved benefits after the pandemic has subsided.

Methodology

The annual KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey (EHBS) for 2021 was conducted between January and July 2021 and included nearly 1,700 randomly selected, non-federal public and private companies with three or more employees. The full EHBS, including a detailed methodology section, is available at ehbs.kff.org.

We asked respondents about: changes on their paid leave they earned during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in January 2020, which was in effect at the time of the interview. Paid leave programs include a company’s regular paid sick leave and paid family and sick leave programs, not programs made available on a temporary basis during the pandemic. Only medical family leave included paid leave benefits and not those of an employer unpaid leave obligations under FMLA. This research cannot separate the robustness of paid leave benefits, including whether a company was offering benefits prior to the pandemic or whether changes to paid leave benefits were already planned before the start of the pandemic.

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