Here’s an update from The Mobility Agenda’s Senior Research Associate, Sarah Sattelmeyer.
Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate approved a (long time in the works!) paid family leave bill,
which the Assembly passed in March. Governor Corzine has committed to
signing this bill, which will make New Jersey the third state to adopt
paid family leave.
For those of you who are not work-life policy junkies like myself,
family and medical leave (which differs from paid sick days) can
guarantee workers time away from work to recover from a personal health
condition, for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for an elderly
family member, and/or to incorporate additional longer-term family care
The 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act, administered by the US Department of Labor, provides unpaid
family and medical leave for some U.S. workers. On the other hand,
State Temporary Disability Insurance programs are administered on a
state level and offer paid family and medical leave for workers. Employer and employee generally jointly fund these programs.
Many states are working (California has been successful!) to extend
their Temporary Disability Insurance programs or develop new programs
to cover a wide array of family and medical needs, including adoption.
According to the National Partnership for Women and Families,
New Jersey’s new law falls into this category in that it will expand
the state’s temporary disability insurance program to give workers up to six weeks of family leave benefits to care for a sick family member or a newborn or newly adopted child. It provides temporary disability insurance benefits at two-thirds of wage replacement up to a maximum of $524 per week in 2008, and is financed by a small employee payroll deduction.
It’s about time, right? But despite the passage of this bill through
both houses of the New Jersey legislature, significant conflict about
the idea of work-life policies still exists. According to an Associated Press reporter and Newsday.com,
Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and other opponents of the bill fear
that “[t]his [bill will] impose a tax on every employer in our state
and continue…to lay the groundwork for the exodus of citizens and
This comment by Senator Beck should have provided the perfect
opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, a leading
proponent of the bill, to use language that bridged the business-worker
gap. But instead, he followed in the divisive footsteps of Senator Beck
by commenting that “[t]his bill…signif[ies] a new day for the state’s
work force, in that, the needs of families will be put before the needs
of business owners.”
Senator Sweeney, while meaning well and clearly a strong
champion of workers who is on the right side of this issue, lost his
chance to promote the pro-business benefits of work-life policies when
he verbally created a divide between “families” and “business
owners”—between us and them.
In many situations, employers have used public and private policy to
balance competing work-life priorities. In a recent study conducted by
WFD Consulting and Corporate Voices for Working Families,
offering work-life policies in the workplace improves employee
retention, creates more positive human capital outcomes, and
establishes a more productive workforce, all of which can lead to
stronger financial performance, especially for retail companies whose
employees often have a direct relationship with customers. In fact,
researchers reporting on a 2002 Watson Wyatt study found
that “companies that provide more flexible work arrangements” could see
as much as a 3.5 percent rise in shareholder value.
Work-life policies also lead to better mental health and less
stress, which contribute to a reduction in employee health care costs.
According to the CDC,
stress at work can increase employees’ unscheduled absences, and health
care expenditures (something about which we are all concerned!) are
nearly 50 percent greater for U.S. workers who report high levels of
We still need research to explore the narrative lens that works best
when discussing work-life policy with a pro-business contingent. But
even without the research, stakeholders should use common sense in
their public remarks about work-life policy. New Jersey legislators
just passed a bill that will help thousands of workers, but Senator
Sweeney’s comments did not even open the door for a productive dialogue
with the business community about legislation that affects all of us.
The facts are on his side. The battle is won, but not the war.
The Senator Sweeneys of the world need to see their legislation through
in a manner that will help other leaders win similar battles.
The Mobility Agenda will soon release Work-Life Policies for the Twenty-First-Century Economy, a report that explains the need for better work-life policy and provides recommendations for stakeholders.