The federal government updated its guidance for employers, saying companies may require their workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Additionally, they may offer incentives for employees who voluntarily receive vaccinations, such as paid time off or bonuses as long, as they are not coercive.
In April, the Biden Administration announced it would grant tax incentives to any small businesses that offer employees paid time off to get vaccinated. Companies both small and large have used incentives and flexible company policies to increase employee vaccination rates.
The new guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes protections for workers who may refuse the vaccine due to underlying medical conditions or conflicting religious beliefs, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Employers who determine that an employee who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability are a risk others are not allowed to bar them from the workplace unless there is no accommodation they can take “that would eliminate or reduce this risk so the unvaccinated employee does not pose a direct threat,” according to the guidelines. The same goes for employees who have religious objections to receiving the vaccine.
In neither case do employers have the right to automatically fire workers who cannot receive the vaccine. First they must determine whether the employee has rights under local and national discrimination laws.
However, experts say most employers will probably simply request their workers get vaccinated, rather than forcefully compel them. Although public confidence in the vaccine has increased, a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27% of respondents “probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists.” Forcing workers to take the shot or leave their jobs could backfire on employers.
There are also potential legal risks for employers. If a required vaccination causes harm to a worker, it could likely spur a workers compensation claim against their employer, employment law attorney Jay Rosenlieb told AARP.
“It’s a treacherous area for employers,” Rosenlieb said.
Under President Joe Biden’s latest infrastructure proposal, American parents and workers could see more free and affordable childcare – and childcare workers would get a wage boost.
The American Families Plan would make a multibillion-dollar investment in childcare and universal pre-K, signaling a paradigm shift in federal policy for workers and parents. The package would make childcare more affordable (and lucrative, for its staffers), a move that comes after women have born the brunt of care and unemployment throughout the pandemic.
Melissa Boteach, the vice president for income security and child care/early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, told Insider that the plan would have a “transformative effect” on both children’s access to high-quality early learning, and mothers’ ability to enter, advance, or remain in the workforce.
“It really begins to recognize and value caregiving as a core part of our economy,” Boteach said. Here’s what that means for parents and childcare workers.
Free pre-K and affordable childcare – and increased benefits for childcare workers
The American Families Plan directs $200 billion to create free, universal pre-K, which the White House estimates could benefit 5 million children.
Beyond the pre-K program, the plan also also invests $225 billion in childcare funding. That will go toward making childcare more affordable and higher-quality – and free for some.
With that funding, America’s lowest-earning families wouldn’t pay anything for childcare. Costs would increase on a sliding scale; families who make 150% of their state’s median income would only pay up to 7% of that income on childcare. It’s language that’s very similar to the recently introduced Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA).
“It’s finally recognizing that childcare is a public good, one which – whether or not you have children who require childcare – it benefits all of us the same way that roads and bridges, and K-12 public education benefit all of us,” Boteach said. “And that’s a really important shift in mindset, because for a long time we’ve seen childcare as a personal responsibility for every family to navigate on their own.”
The minimum wage for the workers staffing those pre-K and childcare programs would increase to at least $15 an hour. Research from the NWLC finds that 95% of the childcare workforce is female; 20% of childcare workers are Latina, and 19% are Black. The childcare workforce also has a higher share of women with disabilities and women born outside of the country than the average workforce.
Childcare workers were also more likely to live in poverty than the broader workforce, and had difficulty affording their own childcare.
Boteach noted that there are proposals in Congress that would go further and spend more, such as the CCWFA. She said her organization is celebrating this $425 billion investment in the American Families Plan, and looking forward to working with Congress to secure more.
“This is a historic investment that is going to make childcare more affordable for families,” Boteach said. “It’s going to fairly compensate the early educators who do this critical work, and it’s going to increase the availability of childcare.”
Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said on Wednesday the company would now offer paid leave to employees who suffer domestic violence or sexual assault.
Facebook staff will be able to take up to 20 days of paid time off if they, a family member, or a household member are experiencing violence and sexual assault at home, Sandberg said at the Bloomberg Equality Summit.
Sandberg said this was prompted by rising reports of domestic violence amid the global lockdowns of COVID-19, saying, “We all have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent it and help those who go through these awful experiences.”
“It’s a situation where you need paid time off, and not just for yourself but for a loved one,” she said. “This is us really recognizing that this is something that affects everyone, including our employees.”
After the summit, Sandberg wrote on Facebook that the 20 days policy could be for “seeking medical attention, or support from a domestic abuse shelter, victims’ services organization or rape crisis center, or to relocate temporarily or permanently if they need to.”
Facebook previously allowed US employees who were themselves victims of domestic violence to take unpaid leave, Bloomberg reported.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request to comment.
A company spokesperson told Bloomberg that employees who have told their managers they have to take emergency leave will later be identified as a domestic abuse victims in Facebook’s internal systems.
Only human resources managers have access to these systems, they said.
Facebook also provides an additional 10 weeks of COVID-19 leave for employees to recover from the virus or to care for their children or elderly relatives, Sandberg said in an interview with Axios on March 8.
On her first day back at work after her maternity leave, Meghan McCain, a Republican, called on the government to institute a national paid maternity leave policy for all new mothers. After experiencing an emergency C-section and postpartum health issues that left her physically unable to bathe or eat without help, she noted that she now understood just how critical maternity leave is to the wellbeing of our children and the wellbeing of women in this country.
A conservative herself, she pointed out the hypocrisy of a Republican party that touts itself as the party of family values, while denying mothers even a few weeks of critical time needed to heal, bond, and care for their children at the beginning of their lives.
McCain is a new arrival to the camp for a national paid leave program, but many of her fellow Republicans are not. For years, polls have consistently shown broad bipartisan support for paid leave, with more than 80% of Republican and Democrats favoring a national policy. But McCain’s recognition of the need for paid leave is just one part of the story; childcare infrastructure is just as essential.
Fortunately, President Joe Biden’s recently announced economic relief package mandates paid leave and childcare subsidies, but the bill is only temporary – A permanent policy needs to be in place.
There is a critical link between paid leave and childcare infrastructure
With no national paid leave program in place, one in four mothers must find childcare for their infants at two weeks old, because they have no choice but to return to work. Most of these parents fall in lower income brackets or are Black or Latino. Rather than stay home to care for their infant and receive a stipend to cover their rent and bills, these women must not only go out to work with bodies still healing from childbirth, they must also spend money they may not have on childcare costs – which are exorbitant at the best of times – and even more so for infant care.
That is, if a parent can even find a spot for their infant. The critical shortage of childcare in our country looks even worse if you are seeking care for an infant. Data from the American Center for Progress showed that in a sampling of 19 states and the District of Columbia, there are more than four children under age 3 for every licensed childcare spot available. This equates to enough childcare for only 23% of infants and toddlers.
More than 80% of the counties examined in the study would be classified as infant and toddler childcare deserts. Where this leaves us is with parents who have to quit their jobs to care for newborns, or parents who have no choice but to resort to patchwork solutions.
We need paid leave and childcare to recover from the recession
Recent studies show that if we don’t address this need for paid leave and childcare, our economy will have difficulty recovering from this pandemic. Only half of the childcare jobs that were lost earlier in the pandemic have returned, and that translates into millions of spots in daycares around the country gone.
With no childcare, many essential jobs – from manufacturing to healthcare – simply cannot be done. With no paid leave, millions of parents will have to choose between a job and caring for their child. A recent analysis done by the Center for American Progress revealed that 700,000 working parents with children under the age of 5 have left the workforce. Most of them were women.
Previous emergency paid leave provisions filled some of these gaps, but those have expired now. Last week, President Biden released details of the American Rescue Package which includes emergency paid leave and sick leave for all working people and expanded childcare subsidies. Beyond that, the Biden administration has signaled support for policies that support working families, including a childcare tax credit for low- and middle-income families, an infusion of capital into childcare providers, and emergency paid leave in the relief package.
The emergency provisions should be thought of as a blueprint for what we can build towards on a permanent basis. The pandemic has laid bare just how much has been wrong for families for how long, but it was not the cause of our broken system. It merely revealed just how broken it was.
Paid leave and other policies that support working families, such as childcare subsidies, have been proven to be very beneficial to businesses as well. Employers in the state of California, where there is a state-wide paid family leave program, report that paid family leave has an overwhelmingly positive impact on productivity, profitability and employee morale. Unemployment and labor shortages too cannot be addressed without a combination of paid time off for parents and childcare.
We need to come together to care for families
As advocates for paid leave and better childcare infrastructure, we celebrate that a prominent Republican is using her platform to turn up the pressure for paid leave, and that the incoming Biden administration already recognizes its importance. We are in a moment where we can make actual political progress on one issue many of us already agree on. On Colorado’s recent paid leave ballot initiative (which resoundingly succeeded), people across the political spectrum voted for paid leave.
Biden’s emergency relief bill is a good first step. Now is the time for the Senate to pass a federal policy that not only gives infants time with their parents at the beginning of their lives, but also sets up businesses with the childcare infrastructure that will provide millions of working parents the solid foundation they need to thrive at work and at home.
We must come together to pass policies that reflect the values we share. Whether we are Republican, Democrat, or independent voters, family is very important to us, both personally and as a nation. Paid leave may not heal our country, but it will be good for our kids and our economy.