Background and Introduction

Employees in Europe and much of the rest of the world have enjoyed generous vacation time mandated by law for many years. In fact, 147 nations mandate vacation of some sort. The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without a minimum annual leave law. Even China mandates three weeks off. Canada mandates two weeks for all employees and three weeks for those with five years or more with the employer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American today annually works a full month (160 hours) more than in 1976. Job-related stress costs American business $344 billion a year in absenteeism, lost productivity and health costs. Indeed, some 75% of visits to primary care physicians come from stress-induced problems.

Not surprisingly, the Pew Research Center reports that more free time is a number one priority for middle class Americans with 68% listing it as a high priority.

In 2008, only 52% of American workers took a vacation of a week or longer, and only 14% took two weeks or more of vacation time.

Men who do not take regular vacations are 32% more likely to die of heart attacks and 21% more likely to die early of all causes, while women who do not take regular vacations have a 50% greater risk of heart attack and they are twice as likely to be depressed as those who take regular vacations.

The foregoing is excerpted from the data contained in the proposed Paid Vacation Act of 2008 recently introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Grayson of Florida. I might add that there is data suggesting that European workers are more productive per hour worked (Americans are more productive per person because we work many more hours). I have long hypothesized that there might be a connection between more time off and higher productivity, not to mention better health.

Paid Vacation Act of 2009

The Paid Vacation Act of 2009 (HR 2564) would mandate one workweek of paid vacation during each 12 month period for employers with 100 or more employees beginning on the date of enactment. The provision would be added to the Fair Labor Standards Act as an amendment.

Beginning three years after the date of enactment, employees of employers with 50 or more employees would be entiteld to one workweek of paid vacation during each 12-month period. Employees of employers with 100 or more employees would be entitled to two weeks.

Employees would be obligated to give 30 days’ notice prior to taking vacation. Employees would be eligible if they had worked for at least 12 months for the employer and worked at least 1250 hours.

The time could not be accrued and rolled over.

The Significance of the Proposed Act

Although I do not have data in hand yet as to the number of employees in the United States whose employers provide paid vacation, my recent study of paid time off and sick leave in general suggests that a substantial majority of employers do provide such paid time off. Persons least likely to have paid vacation are those at the bottom of the wage and socio-economic scale.

Although this bill would increase cost for some employers, in theory it might reduce health care and other costs. Of course, whether the United States is willing to join its other industrialized colleagues in mandating time off remains to be seen. One way or another, though, 2009 is shaping up to be a very interesting year in the world of labor and employment law.

On May 18, the Healthy Families Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide workers with paid sick leave.

The proposed statute, which had been introduced in the previous Congress in 2007, would require employers to provide workers with up to seven days of paid sick leave annually on an accrued basis. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Under the proposed statute workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked to a maximum of seven days (56 hours) per year. Employers would be permitted to allow employees to accrue more than 56 hours but would not be required to do so.

The statute would require that workers begin accruing leave on their first day of employment. A worker could begin using accrued leave after completing 60 days of employment. Accrued but unused leave would carry over from one year to the next to a maximum of 56 hours, unless the employer allowed greater accumulation.

Employees would be allowed to use leave for their own illness or to care for sick parents or children. In addition, leave could be used to visit a physician or other health care provider for preventive care. Further, leave could be used for absence which resulted from “domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking,” in order to obtain medical care, to obtain services from a victim services organization, or to participate in related legal proceedings.

The proposed legislation would allow employers to require that employees provide certification by their doctor if they are absent for more than three consecutive days.

According to Representative DeLauro of Connecticut, the bill’s sponsor, almost half of all U.S. private sector workers have no paid sick leave. Among the lowest quartile of wage earners, 79% have no leave.

A recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research comparing laws and policies related to sick leave in 22 different countries, notes that the United States and Japan are the only countries of the 22 examined that do not provide any short-term paid sick leave to workers. All of the countries, except for the United States, provide long-term paid sick leave to workers with serious illnesses.

In this era of Swine Flu concerns, there is some data suggesting that paid sick leave helps to reduce the spread of contagious illness.

One major employer concern is the abuse of sick leave. Large employers lose about $850,000 annually from unscheduled sick and other personal days. However, San Francisco, which enacted mandatory sick leave in 2007, reports no negative impact on business compared to businesses in surrounding communities.