Through outreach and education, New Jersey’s family leave program can help even more workers, study finds – Rowan Today | Team Cansler

In a country where paid family leave with job protection is not universal, New Jersey leads the way in offering benefits to workers who have to miss work to care for a loved one, welcome a new baby or to recover from an incident of domestic violence.

Elaine ZundlBut more needs to be done to educate workers, particularly in low-wage jobs, about the Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program, according to Elaine Zundl (right), associate professor of political science and economics at Rowan University.

In a study by The Shift Project at Harvard University’s Malcom Wiener Center for Social Policy last fall, researchers surveyed 1,185 service sector workers in New Jersey. Zündl, who joined Rowan this fall, was the research project manager at The Shift Project for the Harvard Kennedy School study. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The researchers found that while New Jersey’s FLI program replaces workers’ wages up to 85 percent of their salary, with an amount capped at $993 per week, program usage was uneven and is uneven.

According to survey data, 32 percent — nearly a third — of workers have experienced a qualifying FLI-covered leave event in the past year. However, according to Zündl, just over half of workers who needed and wanted vacations took advantage of the program.

Retail, gastronomy, gastronomy

Among the workers most affected by the lack of paid access to holidays are service sector employees who work on an hourly basis, for example in retail, catering and hospitality.

The study showed that a large majority of workers — 94 percent — who were on paid leave in New Jersey were not taking the leave, or not taking enough leave, that they needed. Additionally, according to the study, about a quarter of workers — 26 percent — wanted to take a vacation but couldn’t.

According to the researchers, the top barriers to accessing FLI leave included a lack of knowledge of the program, confusion when applying, financial difficulties and fear of losing a job due to a lack of work.

“Lack of awareness and confusion around eligibility seem to be the biggest obstacles,” says Zündl.

In addition, according to Zündl, “financially strapped low-wage workers often need more income than the FLI program provides.”

The program pays 85 percent of base wages, but reduced wages can exacerbate a family’s economic instability, she notes.

“Nearly half of the workers who used FLI — 51 percent — said they took more vacation time but could not afford it.”

fear of retribution

Among those who used FLI, many respondents in the study said they returned to work earlier than planned because they feared losing their job (40 percent) or felt pressure from their employer or co-workers (26 percent and 38 percent, respectively). percent), according to Zündl.

The study’s findings “suggest that FLI is a lifeline for financially vulnerable households, but more could be done to ensure vulnerable workers receive adequate wage replacement while furloughed.”

“Fear of retaliation is particularly acute for hourly workers in a sector characterized by high turnover and for managers who can control much of workers’ jobs,” the study notes. “Managers can punish workers who take vacations by assigning them bad shifts or cutting their hours.”

Overall, Zundl says, most workers were unaware of the FLI program and others had difficulty using it, indicating that more education and publicity is needed. Most workers contact their employer for information about vacation and job protection, so contacting employers would also benefit workers, notes Zündl

Additionally, while workers are generally aware of child birth or adoption leave, fewer realize they can take paid leave to care for a loved one with a serious illness, the study finds.

More than a question of quality of life

According to Zündl, hourly workers in the service sector who have provided essential services during the pandemic are performing jobs with unpredictable schedules, low wages, high turnover and few benefits. Without support for them, their working conditions contribute to economic insecurity and poor health outcomes for workers and their children, studies show.

Despite the challenges of FLI, which was passed in 2009 and expanded in 2020, Zündl says New Jersey is ahead of the nation when it comes to paid family vacations.

“While the US is one of the few developed countries that does not offer its citizens paid leave with job protection, New Jersey pioneered the provision of this valuable benefit so workers can afford to take the time they need. ‘ says Zundl.

Research shows, she adds, “that access to vacations, particularly paid vacations, is much more than a quality of life issue.

“Paid leave programs bring gains in economic security, health and well-being to workers who successfully consume their benefits.”

Zündl, the coordinator of the Master of Public Policy program at Rowan’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences, worked on the study with Shift Project co-directors Daniel Schneider, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology at Harvard, and Kristen Harknett, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco.

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