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SHRM Testifies before Senate on H1N1 and Need for Flexible Paid Leave Policies

(November 11, 2009) - SHRM member from Wingate Healthcare outlines SHRM's voluntary paid leave principles

In testimony on November 10, 2009 before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families, Elissa O'Brien, SPHR, vice president of human resources for Wingate Healthcare, urged Congress to consider alternative approaches to policies governing workplace leave that reflect the needs of today's workforce. O'Brien testified on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which represents 250,000 HR professionals and is the world's largest human resources organization.

In her testimony, O'Brien outlined Wingate Healthcare's flexible paid time off (PTO) plan that provides the company's 4,000 employees with paid leave for use for any reason.

"A flexible PTO policy such as ours supports and encourages employees to stay home for their illness, or if needed, to stay home to care for a close family member with an illness," O'Brien stated. Wingate offers up to 26 days of paid leave for new employees, which increases to 33 days after seven years with the company.

"We believe most employers and HR professionals are responding appropriately and proactively during this national emergency, either through paid time off, or by relaxing attendance or absenteeism policies, allowing more alternative schedules, and promoting telecommuting," she testified.

In a September poll, 74 percent of SHRM members said they already are telling employees not to report to work if they have flu- and cold-like symptoms, while 23 percent plan to do the same. Fifty percent said they plan to send employees home who show flu- and cold-like symptoms. As the national focus on H1N1 has grown in recent months, it is highly likely that an even larger percentage of employers have adopted a similar approach.

In arguing against the need for new employer mandates to require paid sick leave, O'Brien testified:
"The current flu pandemic illustrates the need for a 21st century workplace flexibility policy that adapts to emergency situations, reflects the nature of today's workforce, and meets the needs of both employees and employers. It should enable employees to balance their work and personal needs while providing predictability and stability to employers. Most importantly, such an approach must encourage employers to offer greater flexibility, creativity and innovation to meet the needs of their employees and their families."

O'Brien endorsed SHRM's principles for an alternative approach to costly new mandates that would respond to the diverse needs of employees and employers, and reflect different work environments, union representation, industries and organizational size. SHRM advocates a federal policy that would:
  • Encourage employers to offer uniform and coordinated paid leave;

  • Create administrative and compliance incentives for employers who meet the leave standard;

  • Provide certainty, predictability and accountability for employers and employees; and

  • Allow for different work environments, industries and organizational size.
"It is clear that the H1N1 pandemic presents extreme challenges to business, government and non-profit organizations of all types. SHRM and its members are focused on keeping their workforces as safe and healthy as possible and keeping their businesses running until this public health threat has run its course. In the meantime, we caution against rushing to impose new mandates that will do more harm than good," O'Brien concluded in her testimony.

To review SHRM's Principles for a 21st Century Workplace Flexibility Policy,
visit: http://www.shrm.org/about/Documents/051209 FINAL WF PrinciplesREVISED.pdf.

About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world's largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at www.shrm.org.

Email the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families with your thinking.

Colleen Gildea

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