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Report: Constructing 21st Century Rights for a Changing Workforce: A Policy Brief Series: Brief 3


The way we work is changing. Millions of people are working in ways that do not fit neatly within the traditional employer/employee framework. Innovative policies like paid leave laws offer exciting opportunities to develop workplace standards that truly work for a changing workforce. This brief, the third in a series analyzing key issues in covering non-standard and precarious workers under paid leave laws, focuses on paid sick time laws and the ways in which they have covered—or failed to cover—employees who are often left out of labor protections. As in prior briefs, this brief will look specifically at how coverage has been provided to many workers in the “nonstandard employees” category: temporary workers, seasonal workers, part-time workers and domestic workers and will explore how other workers in the nonstandard workforce are left out of a benefit that is provided by employers to employees.

Before the paid sick time movement began in 2006, almost 40 per cent of the private sector workforce lacked even a single day they could take off with pay if they or a family member were sick. Now eleven states and the District of Columbia as well as 33 localities have passed laws requiring that employers provide paid sick time to their employees. These laws provide covered workers with the right to take time off to care for themselves or their family members when they are sick without fear of retaliation and with full pay.

In crafting paid sick time laws, attention has been paid to ensuring coverage of workers who have often been marginalized such as temporary, seasonal, part-time and domestic workers. It has been difficult, however, in laws that require employers to provide benefits to an employee to cover independent contractors and workers who have been historically left out of minimum wage coverage. There have been special issues with coverage of certain types of workers in certain industries such as per diem workers in the health care industry and unionized construction workers. The lessons learned in passing inclusive paid sick time laws as well as the lessons learned in fighting against exclusions of certain kinds of workers can be helpful going forward in developing policies that will cover all workers in a changing workforce. The policy brief surveys existing laws to identify and analyze these issues including:

  • The importance of covering all employees through a broad definition of employee
  • Hours accrual as a means of ensuring coverage of part-time workers
  • The need to cover seasonal and temporary workers
  • Questions around staffing agencies and joint employment
  • Issues around covering domestic workers, “per diem” and construction workers
  • Special problems of covering independent contractors
  • Particular protections against retaliation for this workforce
  • The impact of business size carve outs
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