July 2000

 

Leave of Absence Benefits Among Private-Sector Employers

Paid Holiday, Vacation, and Sick Leave

Provision

  • Paid leave is one of the most common benefits offered by employers. In 1997, 89 percent of full-time employees in medium and large private establishmentsa were eligible to participate in paid holidays; 95 percent in paid vacation leave; and 56 percent in paid sick leave.
  • Among full-time employees in medium and large private establishments in 1997, the average number of paid holidays was 9.3 days per year. The average annual number of vacation days ranged from 9.6 days after one year of service to 21.5 days after 25 years of service. The average number of annual paid sick leave days ranged from 11.2 days after one year of service to 21.1 days after 25 years of service.
  • Employers have different rules regarding what an employee can do with unused vacation leave at the end of the calendar year. In 1997, among full-time employees in medium and large private establishments, 23 percent could carry over some or all of the unused vacation leave; 13 percent could only cash in the unused leave; and 8 percent could either carry over or cash in the unused leave. Forty-nine percent lost unused vacation leave.

Utilization

  • There are few sources of data on utilization of leave by employees. However, Hewitt Associates has published data on utilization of sick leave. According to their survey, 45 percent of responding firms did not keep track of utilization of sick leave by their employees in 1997. Among those firms that did track it, the average number of sick days used per year by a salaried exempt employee was 3.8 days; salaried nonexempt employees used 5.6 days; nonunion hourly employees used 4.8 days; and union hourly employees used 5.5 days.

Cost

  • In 1997, paid leave cost medium and large private-sector employers $1.50 per hour worked, or 7.3 percent of total compensation costs. Vacation leave cost $0.75 (3.7 percent of total compensation); holidays, $0.50 (2.2 percent of total compensation); and sick leave, $0.18 (0.9 percent of total compensation).
  • By 1999, paid leave costs had increased slightly in dollar terms but changed little as a percentage of total compensation. In 1999, paid leave cost medium and large private-sector employers $1.58 per hour worked, or 7.2 percent of total compensation costs. Vacation leave cost $0.80 (3.7 percent of total compensation); holidays, $0.53 (2.4 percent of total compensation); and sick leave, $0.19 (0.9 percent of total compensation).

Family Leave

  • The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provided up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-related leave each year (with continued health insurance coverage) to employees in firms with 50 or more employees for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious illness of the employee or the employee's child, parent, or spouse. In 1997, 93 percent of full-time employees in medium and large private establishments were eligible to participate in an unpaid family leave program.
  • Paid family leave is less commonly provided. In 1997, 2 percent of full-time employees were eligible to participate in a paid family leave program.

Other Types of Leave

  • Some employers provide separate leave programs for specific events in an employee's life, such as the death of a family member. In 1997, among full-time employees in medium and large private establishments, 81 percent were eligible to participate in paid funeral leave, 87 percent in paid jury duty leave, and 47 percent in paid military leave.
  • Recognizing that employees sometimes need to tend to personal business during working hours, such as responding to household emergencies (plumbing problems, etc.), some employers provide paid personal leave. In 1997, among full-time employees in medium and large private establishments, 20 percent were eligible to participate in paid personal leave.
  • A benefit that is gaining in popularity is sabbatical leave. Hewitt Associates found that 13 percent of firms offered sabbatical leave, either through a formal policy (10 percent of firms) or an informal policy (3 percent of firms) in 1997.
  • Of those employers that offer sabbatical leave, 63 percent offer it as an unpaid leave program. Twenty-three percent of firms offering sabbatical leave allow employees to use paid time off to extend or offset sabbatical leave.

For more information, contact Ken McDonnell, (202) 775-6342, or see EBRI's Web site at www.ebri.org.

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, EBRI Databook on Employee Benefits, fourth edition (Washington, DC: Employee Benefit Research Institute, 1997); Hewitt Associates; Managing Paid Time Off: 1997 (Hewitt Associates: Lincolnshire, IL, 1998).

aEstablishments with 100 or more employees.

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