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A Better Balance’s 2022 New York State Work-Family Agenda

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A BETTER BALANCE’S 2022 NEW YORK STATE WORK-FAMILY AGENDA

Dear Governor Hochul, 

We write as advocates for working families in New York to thank you for your tireless commitment to New Yorkers who struggle to balance the competing demands of work and care.  A Better Balance has been so proud to work with you on many initiatives to advance fairness and equality for working women and families from closing the gender wage gap in New York to the Women’s Equality Act, New York Paid Family Leave, and, more recently, both the permanent and emergency paid sick time laws. 

New York has long been a national leader on work-family issues, but, in the wake of the ongoing  pandemic and care crisis, more action is urgently needed. We are confident that, as a committed  advocate for working families, your administration will prioritize their needs across agencies and in the coming legislative session. As you undoubtedly know, New York is facing a care crisis.  Workers across the state are facing economic insecurity and struggling to care for themselves  and their loved ones due to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, the pandemic created an unprecedented, successful experiment in workplace flexibility for many, but there is much needed work to be done in making that a reality for all New Yorkers. Access to fair and flexible work remains unequal, available most often to higher-income workers, and out-of-reach for  many who fear retaliation for so much as requesting a schedule change.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is crucial that New York State prioritize the  needs of women, especially women of color, and caregivers in the workplace. We have been  proud to work with you on this issue in the past, but now, when millions of women, disproportionately women of color, have been pushed out of the workforce during the pandemic due, in large part, to caregiving needs, and with experts suggesting that it could take years to  undo the pandemic’s damage to women’s economic equality, this work is more urgent than ever. Workers—especially low-income women of color, LGBTQ+ workers, and all of the workers who have borne the brunt of both the job loss and the caregiving needs exacerbated by  the current crisis—need and deserve a recovery that prioritizes their needs.  

Ending this care crisis is a crucial step towards gender equality and racial justice and we are hopeful that this will be a key priority for your administration. As Governor, you are well positioned to end the care crisis facing New York families by championing comprehensive, bold  solutions. Outlined below are the key policies working families need in 2022. We urge you to make these a priority this coming legislative session and would welcome the chance to discuss  these issues with you. 

PRIORITIES

  • Paid Sick & Safe Leave  
    • Issue additional guidance on the New York State paid sick and safe leave law and prioritize enforcement and outreach.
  • Paid Family & Medical Leave 
    • As you probably know, a federal paid family and medical leave program is  currently part of the President’s Build Back Better plan to expand our care  infrastructure. The current paid leave proposal would leave state programs intact  and offer federal reimbursement to all state programs currently enacted that meet  federal standards. If the paid family and medical leave bill passes Congress as  currently proposed our priority in New York will be to bring the New York  program into line with Federal requirements so that we can obtain federal  reimbursement. A Better Balance has been a leader in the effort to pass paid  family and medical leave at the federal level and we hope to serve as a resource to  insuring that our program meets all federal standards. 
    • With or without a federal program, it is essential that we modernize temporary  disability insurance (“TDI”), which provides benefits for workers who cannot  work due to their own serious, non-work-related medical condition. TDI needs to  be improved to provide New Yorkers with paid medical leave that offers full  employment protections and benefits that are high enough to be meaningful. The  benefit level for TDI has not been raised since 1989 and stands at a maximum of  $170 a week. Raising the benefit level and improving the program are long  overdue and if a federal program passes, our benefit levels for TDI will need to be  raised to meet federal standards as no proposal has benefits as low as those  currently paid in New York for short term disability. 
    • Make paid family leave benefits more portable, ensuring that workers in our  changing economy can use the benefits as they move between jobs or face  unemployment, especially as the crisis has left so many unable to access the  benefits they have paid for. This too is likely to be a requirement in the federal  paid family and medical leave law.
    • Ensure that self-employed workers can meaningfully access their right to paid  family leave by removing the onerous waiting period. The federal proposal would  automatically cover all self-employed workers so that may also be a change we  will need to make in our state program. 
  • Supporting Pregnant, Nursing and Caregiving Workers 
    • The Human Rights Law should be updated to expand the prohibition on familial  status discrimination to encompass all forms of caregiver discrimination.  
    • The legislature should also consider additional action to ensure that certain  caregivers, such as those who care for someone with a disability, are able to  access the accommodations they need. 
    • Finalize and issue strong regulations and guidance on New York State pregnancy,  childbirth and lactation accommodation laws. 
  • Fair & Flexible Scheduling 
    • In late 2020, A Better Balance jointly administered a survey with the NYC  Comptroller’s Office to better understand how New Yorkers are navigating  professional and personal responsibilities in COVID-19-era New York City. Our  findings, outlined in our report “Our Crisis of Care,” revealed that fair and  flexible work is crucial for New Yorkers struggling to balance the competing  demands of work and care during the pandemic, but access to flexibility is  inequitable.5 While 73% of respondents with income over $100,000 reported  having access to a flexible schedule, only 41 percent with incomes below $50,000  did. Women of color had the among the least access to flexibility. We also found  women are more than four times as likely as men to experience retaliation related  to their responsibilities as a caregiver, while individuals who live with someone  with a disability were twice as likely as those who do not to have been retaliated  against for this reason. 
    • Now more than ever, New York must lead the way and ensure workers— especially those who are balancing the need to care for themselves or others while  maintaining their economic security—have meaningful access to alternative work  arrangements, including telecommuting and part-time work, without fear of  retaliation for the request. 
    • Workers, especially in low-wage industries, should also have a fair say in, and  advance notice of, their schedules. 
  • Fair Disciplinary Policies 
    • Pass legislation ensuring that workers cannot be subject to discipline for lawful  absences, including those related to a known disability, pregnancy-related  conditions or protected sick leave where sick time is guaranteed by law. The policy should include a requirement that employers engage in a good-faith,  interactive process to determine if an employee is entitled to a reasonable  accommodation or if lawful absences have been improperly counted against the  worker before any disciplinary action is assessed. 
  • Notice to Employees 
    • Pass legislation to broaden and modernize New York’s posting and notice  requirements. Many of New York’s equal employment opportunity laws and labor  laws contain provisions requiring employers to post a notice of employee rights in  the workplace. In the modern workplace—and especially the pandemic  workplace—however, a physical poster may not be enough to adequately inform  workers of their rights. At the same time, many employers have additional  workplace policies, such as so-called “no-fault attendance” policies—and, all too  often, employees are not given any way to access these policies and, as a result,  are left in the dark about the policies that are used to penalize them. Legislation is  needed to ensure that workers are provided with easily-accessible, digital  information about their rights and the workplace policies that apply to them that  they can access both in and out of the workplace. 
  • Funding for Education, Outreach, and Enforcement 
    • New York’s Labor, Human Rights, and Workers’ Compensation laws contain  many crucial provisions protecting workers from discrimination and exploitation and providing a baseline of labor benefits. Strong outreach and education to  ensure that workers are informed of their rights is crucial, as is strong enforcement of these laws to ensure that workers are truly able to access and  benefit from these important protections.  
    • The Department of Labor, Department of Human Rights, and Workers’  Compensation Board must be robustly funded, so that they have the resources  they need to strongly enforce these laws. In addition, these departments must  prioritize proactive enforcement that responds to workers’ needs during the  pandemic and beyond—for instance, the Department of Labor must prioritize  enforcement of the newly-enacted Paid Sick Time law and wage theft enforcement, and the Department of Human Rights should fast-track pregnancy  and disability accommodations complaints as well as familial status discrimination complaints. 

Related Key Issues

  • Worker Misclassification 
    • Pass legislation to ensure that employers cannot evade labor protections by  misclassifying their workers as independent contractors.  
  • Childcare
    • Support efforts to increase funding for childcare providers and ensure that all New  Yorkers are able to access quality, affordable childcare. (As with paid family and  medical leave, federal efforts in Build Back Better may assist with funding in this  area.) 
  • Long-Term Care 
    • Support efforts to increase funding for home care in ways that honor the rights of  seniors and those with disabilities while also valuing the work of home care  providers. (Here as well there may be federal support through Build Back Better  to enable us to offer those supports.) 
  • Maternal & Reproductive Health  
    • Prioritize outreach and education on the Reproductive Health Act  
  • Equal Pay 
    • Pass legislation requiring employers to disclose the salary range for a position to  applicants during the hiring process. 

Sincerely, 

A Better Balance

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