Family leave law not a 'job-killer'
Sacramento Bee, January 12, 2011
By Niesha Lofing
California's landmark family leave program didn't turn out to be the costly "job-killer" that businesses initially feared and has produced significant economic, social and health benefits for both male and female workers, economic and labor researchers found in a study released Tuesday.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, City University of New York and the Center for Economic and Policy Research examined the effects of the state's Paid Family Leave law, which passed in 2002 and took effect for most workers in 2004.
The program allows eligible employees to take up to six weeks off at 55 percent of their usual salary (with a cap that is adjusted for inflation) to care for a new child or a seriously ill relative.
Researchers Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman noted that, despite business opposition to the law, most employers they surveyed reported that the program had either a "positive effect" or "no noticeable effect" on productivity, profitability and performance, turnover and morale.
"What we find is that paid family leave is the least of work interruptions that employers have to deal with," Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said during a conference call today. "Most work is covered by other employees, and what we found is that the leave policy improves retention and morale. … Even those (executives) who had some misgivings before found that it was a non-event."
The study is based on results from surveys conducted in 2009-2010 of 253 employers and 500 individuals across the state about their experiences with the California family leave program. The report found that the program benefits both low-wage workers and those with jobs paying $20 or more per hour with health benefits.
Among workers in lower-paying jobs, 97 percent who used paid family leave were satisfied with the length of their leave, compared with 73 percent of those who took leaves but did not use the benefit. Workers in high-paying jobs were more likely than those in lower-paying jobs to return to the same employer.
The study also found that women who used the program were more likely to breastfeed, and for a longer period.
Men accounted for 26 percent of those taking leave in 2009-2010, compared with 17 percent in 2004-2005.
"Many men could take unpaid leave prior to this, but now that they can get paid, it makes it much more attractive to them," Milkman, a professor at UCLA and City University of New York, said during the conference call.
The study's findings weren't all positive, however.
Milkman and Appelbaum also found that workers' awareness of the family leave program is limited and those who stand to benefit most – low-wage workers, immigrants and Latinos – are the least likely to be aware of it.
The study suggests expanding outreach, extending job protection to those who take paid family leave, extending the program to cover all of the state's public employees and increasing the level of wage replacement provided from 55 percent of weekly earnings to two-thirds, or 66.7 percent, of weekly earnings.
"The two-thirds replacement makes a huge difference for lower-wage workers," Appelbaum said, adding that New Jersey, the only other state in the country to have a paid family leave program, offers two-thirds wage replacement but a lower maximum cap.