Good if you can get it: Benefits and inequalities in the expansion of paid sick leave during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the important role that frontline retail, grocery, food service, and delivery workers play in the U.S. economy as well as on the difficult and often precarious working conditions these jobs involve. While low wages and unstable and unpredictable schedules pose ongoing challenges, in the context of a global pandemic, lack of access to paid sick leave is especially salient. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act exempted large employers from paid sick-leave requirements, even though prior to the pandemic, more than half of service-sector workers at large employers lacked access to paid sick leave. We draw on novel survey data from the Shift Project, collected from service-sector workers employed at large companies, to examine whether employers voluntarily increased paid sick leave when the pandemic struck. We find modest expansions in paid sick leave, which were stratified by gender and race/ethnicity, with women less likely to report expanded paid leave than their male counterparts. We find evidence that between-company segregation drove these inequalities, with women and workers of color concentrated at companies that did not voluntarily expand paid leave. Finally, we show that workers who reported that their employers expanded paid leave were less likely to work when sick, more satisfied with their jobs, less likely to plan to seek new jobs, and happier overall.