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


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 first in a series analyzing key issues in covering non-standard and precarious workers under paid leave laws, focuses on self-employed workers and paid family and medical leave laws.

Six states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive paid family and medical leave laws. These laws provide covered workers with the right to partial wage replacement through a social insurance system when they are not working due to their own or a family member’s serious health needs or bonding with a new child. These laws all cover nearly all private sector employees in their respective states automatically.

None of these paid leave programs require self-employed workers to get (or pay for) coverage. Five states (California, New York, Washington State, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts) allow self-employed workers to opt in to coverage, while two (New Jersey and Rhode Island) do not provide this option.

The policy brief surveys existing laws and leading proposals to identify and analyze the primary outstanding issues in covering self-employed workers under paid family and medical leave laws, including:

  • Should self-employed workers be covered automatically (like employees) or be given the choice to participate?
  • If coverage is voluntary, what tools are needed to protect the social insurance fund?
  • Who should pay for coverage for self-employed workers (and how much)?
  • How should programs address the problem of misclassification—workers treated as independent contractors who legally ought to be considered employees?
  • How should programs address workers with multiple sources of income?
  • What outreach and education is needed to ensure self-employed workers know about and can use their rights?
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