Recent State Wins for Working Families You Might Have Missed

Peggy Young, whose employer denied her request for special accommodations during her pregnancy, is seen with her daughter in Washington, November 14, 2014.

As the national debate about developing policies to meet the needs of working families escalates—with proposals from both sides of the aisle addressing different types of paid leave—progressive victories at the state level can be overshadowed. Yet these state wins are critical to the national debate: They demonstrate that concrete, progressive policies to comprehensively address the needs of women and families are not only possible but also a voter priority. From paid family and medical leave to equal pay to pregnancy protections, here are some of the recent progressive state victories that you might have missed.

Paid family and medical leave in Washington

On July 5, 2017, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a comprehensive paid family and medical leave bill—the most generous in the country. The bipartisan bill is the result of a compromise among Democrats and Republicans in the Washington Legislature. Under the new law, employers and employees will contribute to a social insurance program that will provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a new child or to care for one’s own serious illness or that of a family member, with a max of 16 weeks for taking both types of leave in one year and 18 weeks in the case of pregnancy complications. Starting in January 2020, workers who take leave will receive between 61 percent and 90 percent of their wages, depending on income level, with a maximum benefit of $1,000 per week.*

Washington joins four other states and the District of Columbia in guaranteeing some form of paid family and medical leave. California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have implemented paid family and medical leave plans, and New York and Washington, D.C., have passed plans that will become effective in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

As of 2016, however, only 13 percent of private sector workers had paid family leave, which means that millions of workers must still make the impossible choice between taking care of their families or themselves and losing a paycheck.

Paid sick days in Arizona and Washington

Arizona’s paid sick days law is set to take effect this month after being approved by ballot measure in November 2016. Paid sick days are a critical policy, in addition to comprehensive paid family and medical leave, as they allow workers to earn time off for short-term illnesses such as the flu or medical needs such as taking a child to a doctor’s appointment. The Arizona policy allows full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers to earn a minimum of one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Workers can also use sick days for absences due to domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse, or stalking.

Voters in Washington also advanced a statewide paid sick days ballot initiative in November that will go into effect in January 2018. The law requires employers to provide employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, which they can use to care for themselves or a family member.

Several other localities have also enacted paid sick days policies recently, including Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, and St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. And in Georgia, a law went into effect that allows workers who have employer-provided paid sick days to use that leave to care for immediate family members. There are now six states—plus the District of Columbia—29 cities, and two counties with paid sick days statutes in place.

Equal pay in Delaware, Oregon, and Nevada

This June, Delaware and Oregon advanced statewide measures to promote equal pay. Delaware’s bill prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their salary history prior to making an offer of employment. This is a critical measure to help promote equal pay for equal work because women and people of color typically have lower earnings when compared with their white male counterparts. By limiting the usage of prior salaries, salary history bans can help prevent former lower salaries from depressing future pay. In addition to a similar salary history ban, the Oregon Equal Pay Act expands existing equal pay provisions to include pay discrimination based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, disability, age, and veteran status. The law also incentivizes employers to proactively address discrimination by enabling them to avoid compensatory and punitive damages if they demonstrate that they conducted a pay audit within the past three years and took corrective action to remedy pay disparities.

Delaware and Oregon join Massachusetts, California, and several cities that have taken steps to combat pay discrimination by passing salary history bans. Recently, the Nevada legislature also strengthened its state equal pay law by adopting greater protections against discrimination for workers who voluntarily engage in pay discussions at work.

Fair scheduling in Oregon

Oregon is set to become the For many low-wage workers—60 percent of whom are women—erratic schedules make it difficult or near impossible to meet the demands of both a job and family caregiving responsibilities. The bipartisan proposal, which the state legislature approved in late June and which awaits Gov. Kate Brown’s (D) signature, is scheduled to go into effect in 2018. The bill would require retail, hospitality, and food services companies with at least 500 employees worldwide to give employees written estimated schedules seven days in advance. The required notice period would increase to two weeks in July 2020. If an employer made last minute scheduling changes, they would be required to compensate the employee one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate in addition to wages earned, and employees could not be retaliated against for voicing scheduling preferences. Workers also would have the right to have at least 10 hours off between shifts from one day to the next.

Since 2014, the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Emeryville and San Jose, California, have passed similar measures.

Protections for pregnant workers and new mothers in Nevada

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) recently signed two bills to strengthen protections for pregnant workers and working mothers. The bipartisan Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations—such as modifying equipment, revising break schedules, or temporarily transferring an employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position—upon request for conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medication condition. The second measure requires employers with more than 50 employees to accommodate workers who are new mothers by providing reasonable break time and a clean, private place other than a bathroom to nurse. In every state, the majority of women who give birth in a one-year period are also in the labor force. While the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 established protections for pregnant workers, there is still more work to be done to ensure that they do not face discrimination and that they receive the accommodations they need in the workplace.

Nineteen other states, the District of Columbia, and four cities have passed similar laws requiring employers to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations.

Conclusion

The passage of progressive bills at the state and local levels is an important step forward in ensuring that millions more women and families have access to commonsense workplace policies. And the momentum to pass work-family policies continues: In addition to the examples detailed above, bills have passed through state legislatures and gone on to governors that would, for example, expand paid family and medical leave in New Jersey and ban the use of salary history in New Jersey and Illinois. Clearly, states and cities can be incubators to show that these policies are effective without harming the local economy. But all women and their families deserve these policies—regardless of the state or ZIP code in which they live.

Progressive proposals currently in Congress—such as the FAMILY Act, the Healthy Families Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Schedules that Work Act, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act—would make policies such as these a reality nationwide. To meet the diverse needs of 21st century families, and to catch up with the majority of other countries around the world, Congress should take a cue from these states. Policymakers should finally pass comprehensive laws to create a national paid family and medical leave program, ensure sick days for all workers, promote equal pay, and protect pregnant workers and new mothers. As the cities, states, and companies that have already embraced such policies demonstrate, these sound investments in working families help drive the economy forward.

* The Washington state legislature originally passed a paid family and medical leave plan in 2007, but implementation was delayed due to the lack of a funding mechanism.

Danielle Corley is a research associate for women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress. Shilpa Phadke is the senior director of the Women’s Initiative at the Center. Erin Cohan is the director of state and local government affairs at the Center.