President Barack Obama greets audience members after he delivers remarks on improving the fuel efficiency of American trucks, at the Safeway Distribution Center in Upper Marlboro, Md., Feb. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama Took Action on Paid Sick Leave and Equal Pay — Here’s What It Means For Working Families

Forty-one million Americans in the private sector to do not have a single paid sick day, and an average woman only make 80 cents on the dollar compared to the typical man.

In order to build a 21st Century workplace that is globally competitive, employers need to adopt policies that reflect the values and priorities of the 21st Century worker. That means recognizing diversity as a strength, prioritizing the support of working families, and empowering workers to thrive both at work and at home. Simply put, in this 21st Century global marketplace, adopting family friendly workplace policies is essential for employers to effectively compete for, and retain, the best talent.

Here are two realities: everyone gets sick and everyone deserves equal pay for equal work. Yet in many workplaces across our country, these truths are too often denied — with workers lacking access to even basic protections and benefits that should be staples of the American economy. Forty-one million Americans in the private sector do not have a single paid sick day, and an average woman only makes 80 cents on the dollar compared to the typical man — far less for women of color.

Throughout President Obama’s time in office, he has worked hard to ensure that working Americans and their families are able to thrive. That’s why today, we are proud to improve their opportunities in two important ways.

First, we are announcing a final rule that extends seven days of earned, annual paid sick leave for workers on many federal contracts. This rule ensures that workers will have the peace of mind to know they will still earn a paycheck if they have to miss a day with the flu, or to take care of a sick child or loved one.

Working Americans should not have to make that terrible choice between their health, or the care of their loved ones, and a paycheck. And the good news is that leaders across the country agree. Since President Obama called for all Americans to have the ability to earn paid sick days, more than 29 states, cities and counties have taken action to expand paid sick leave in their communities. And with this new rule, we have taken an important step forward for employees of covered federal contractors. Now it is time for Congress to act and pass the Healthy Families Act so that millions of Americans without paid sick leave will be able to earn seven paid sick days.

Second, today the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finalized an action that requires all companies with more than 100 employees to report pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity. Employers do not know if they have a pay gap unless they collect the data and examine it. That’s why this action is important — it will help companies break down what they are actually paying their workers and better understand whether they have a gender pay gap. Requiring the collection and reporting of this data will encourage companies to take a hard look at how they pay men and women, and close any pay gap.

Throughout my time in the White House, I have been so fortunate to meet extraordinary men and women from all over the country who do their very best to earn a good living and take care of their families. But through no fault of their own, they have been held back from being able to reach their full potential — two common reasons are because they are women who make less than their male counterparts, or because they cannot take a single paid sick day.

So to help everyone appreciate the benefit of our new policies, it’s my honor to introduce you to three of those Americans. These are folks who have written to President Obama or the Department of Labor about the issues they face every day, and whom, earlier this week, I called to discuss the new policies we’ve announced.

Bobbie Crawford is a mom of four from Oklahoma who went back to work one week after the birth of each of her four children because she could not afford to lose another week’s pay; Bobbie even once miscarried twins, and returned to work on the same day! If she would have had that one week paid, she could have spent it with her new babies without worrying about lost income. We know that there are many women like Bobbie who have to leave their newborn babies behind to go back to work even when they’re not ready physically or emotionally.

Bobbie also told me that if one of her children gives her an illness, she has no choice but to go to work sick. She can’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Although she’s not an employee of a federal contractor, she hopes that the federal action will help spur other employers across the country to follow our lead.

Watch here for a little bit of my call with Bobbie — a truly strong and courageous woman.

I also called Felicia Willems from North Carolina, who worked at a technical support center for a large retail corporation. She was hired to work the exact same job as her brother-in-law, but when they compared salaries, they discovered that she was being paid about $4 an hour less.

When Felicia made the brave decision to go to her boss, he agreed to raise her wage, but prohibited her from discussing her wages with her coworkers. Felicia felt dreadful that she could not tell the other women that they were being paid less for the same work. But she feared retaliation from her boss if she did.

Transparency and empowerment are both key to ensuring all workers are paid fairly. That’s why collecting data is so important — it helps employers realize they have a gap in the first place. And that’s why President Obama has called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require pay transparency and prevent all employers from retaliating against their employees for discussing pay and provide all workers with the same protection we now provide for employees of covered federal contractors.

We know this isn’t just about workers — we need good employers to recognize the importance of providing good benefits to their employees. Rebecca Rubin is the CEO of Marstel-Day LLC, a small-business federal contractor in Virginia. She told me there was no question that her decision to provide paid sick days and paid leave to her workforce helps her business and bottom line by enhancing employees’ wellbeing.

CEOs like Rebecca help show other leaders why businesses should voluntarily provide their employees with paid sick days, and Rebecca says that she hopes this rule encourages other employers to do the right thing as well.

The stories of Bobbie, Felicia, and Rebecca continue to remind us all that these policies have a direct impact on the quality of life and health of hard working families all around the country, as well as enable businesses to compete effectively to attract and retain talent.

Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.