Quote of the Week: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined US Supreme Court August 1993

Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.    ~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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I took this picture of the steps of the United States Supreme Court in August 1993. At the time, I was applying to law schools and visiting different campuses. This trip to Washington, D.C. was a personal pilgrimage of sorts. I felt that I should see the seat of government in person before becoming a lawyer. I love a good ritual and traveling too, so it was perfect for me.

Before the trip, I got a visitor’s pass to the House of Representatives and sat in while they were in session. It was a free for all and the behavior reminded me of a bunch of kindergartners. The representatives were walking all over the place, shouting and talking over each other. The gavel was repeatedly pounded and many requests were made to come to order. I remember feeling disappointed and dismayed. No wonder the country had so many problems!

It was harder to get a pass to visit the Senate, so I wasn’t able to see the behavior. The Senate is supposed to be more dignified. Maybe then. But the way things are now, I know better.

While I was there, I took a short tour of the public parts of the Supreme Court, but did not see the Court in session. I’m not sure what day in August 1993 I was there, but on August 10th, Ruth Bader Ginsburg took her seat. I never thought about it before, but I was there at a very historical time.

The United States is a better place because she served. Her death last night was such a blow. RBG held on for as long as she could. I hope that she is at peace.

A Hole In The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law

Cup of tea with lemon for sick day

Being a leap year, there’s an extra day standing between us and spring. So, us New Englanders have to tough out winter even longer. February is the worst of the season and we’re still at the beginning. The cold temperatures usually mean that more of us are sick. CBS News recently reported that because the country has close to full employment, the places where we work have an increase in people, so the flu spreads even easier.

Whether it’s a cold, the flu or some other bug, there’s probably a lot of coughing, sneezing and sniffling where you work. Everyone says if you’re sick, don’t go in. Take a day or two off to rest and get better.

But that’s often easier said than done. Especially so soon after the holidays. Money spent on gifts may have left some in a fragile financial state and the holidays themselves may have been unpaid — further exacerbating the situation. Not all workers have paid holidays.

The time frame from the end of November through mid-January (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) often comes with several smaller weekly paychecks due to all the holidays. So taking unpaid time off at this time of year because of illness may not be an option. If anything, some workers may be trying to work extra time to make up for the money lost.

The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law is presumably meant to address most workers, but its focus is on permanent employees within larger companies – 11 employees or more. This law may seem fair on its face, but it’s not always fair in its application. Even though I had been working full time, one year, I ended up not having sick time available to use even though I earned it. Contract workers aren’t able to use sick leave in the same way (or sometimes at all) as permanent workers.

Contract vs Permanent

The term contract employee is used interchangeably with temporary employee. Both terms mean that the employee is hired via a contract for a particular job at a set rate of pay. This worker does not become part of the staff where they work and is not a permanent employee.

According to the American Staffing Association, about 17 million temporary and contract employees are hired each year in the United States by staffing companies. Most work full-time and enjoy having a flexible schedule. The average assignment is around two and a half months and can range from a few hours to several years.

Staffing statistics specific to Massachusetts give some insight as well. Annual sales are $4.3 billion. Each week, 68,100 temporary employees are part of the workforce in this state. Annually, that’s 354,200 people doing contract work in Massachusetts.

47% of these workers are in the engineering, IT and scientific sector. 15% are doing industrial work and another 15% are doing clerical and administrative work in an office. 7% are doing professional or managerial work. 12% are part of an uncategorized sector and 4% work in health care.

I’ve been a full-time contract attorney for many years, working at mostly large law firms in the Boston area. I’ve worked on dozens of projects. They have been as short as one day to as long as nearly four years. But as the previously stated statistics say, most recently, my projects have generally been two to three months.

To keep working steadily, I’m signed up with multiple agencies. Depending upon how long a project lasts, I might work for one agency for a year or more. Or I may work for several agencies for a few weeks and then for a few months. Most of these agencies I have worked with over many years. Each project may be new, but I am not a new employee. There is a work history.

The Problem: Using Massachusetts Sick Time

Earned sick time in Massachusetts provides that workers can earn and use up to 40 hours of sick time per year. Workers earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers can have their own policies providing more generous leave options than required by law.

Earning sick time isn’t the problem. The problem is using sick time that has already been earned. The regulations give some clarity. Sick time can’t be used until 90 days after the first date of actual work. Also, after a 12 month break in service, the 90-day vesting period starts again.

When a contractor is working on a project on average for about 75 days and works for multiple agencies, they may not return to the same agency for another year or more. In this scenario, the sick time that they earned is probably lost by the time they return to that employer.

This happened to me. It hasn’t happened often, but I went about one year where I couldn’t use the sick time that I had earned. By the next year, I had lost most if not all of it and had to start the 90 days again. This has also happened to colleagues. If this is happening to us, it might be happening to contractors in different sectors of the workforce as well.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “approximately 728,000 private sector workers gained access to earned sick time under the law; of those, 431,000 workers lacked paid leave benefits of any kind (including vacation) and are newly eligible to receive leave under the law.”

The Solution: Amend The Law

I’m one of those workers who for the most part didn’t have paid leave benefits before this 2015 law. I’m grateful for it. But hindsight is 2020 and so is the year. Since we’ve had five years to see how this law works, I believe it’s time to take a closer look and amend the law, so it works for more of us.

However, there is another issue. Does anyone care? I’m attuned to the gaps in the law because I have firsthand experience. I was talking to a friend at work about this and she said that nobody cares how it impacts us. It felt quite hurtful, but maybe it’s true.

I plan to contact my state legislators about an amendment — and it may come to nothing. But at least I wrote this and raised the issue. Much like when I wrote about the gap in the Family Medical Leave Act when it comes to siblings. I want others in similar situations to know that they are not alone. It’s happening to other people as well. And even though it may not be most people, someone else does care.

An Extra Hour Today as Daylight Savings Time Ends

Cafe clock showing the hour.

Remember to turn your clocks back tonight and grab that extra hour! I love getting more time today, but I am not looking forward to even less daylight. It’s already dark by 6pm, so tomorrow it will be dark by 5pmmoving us faster into winter.

I’ve been feeling so sleepy lately and feel my inner clock shifting with the season. I’ve been going to sleep earlier and rising earlier as well.

Last week, I took the air conditioners out of the windows. Last night, I put the second blanket on my bed. The flannel sheets aren’t out yet, but soon!

Here in Massachusetts, for the past year, there was serious discussion about remaining in Daylight Savings Time and skipping the time change back to Eastern Standard Time. Our legislature formed a commission that studied the topic in depth and issued a report on November 1st. The report is 47 pages long and leaves the door open for a future change. Below are a few key passages.

No mechanism exists through which Massachusetts could adopt year-round DST, as federal law only allows states to opt out of DST. But the state could effectively achieve that goal by moving from the Eastern Time Zone to the Atlantic Time Zone and then opting out of DST. Several states are considering bills that would move them to year-round DST, including four of the five other New England states. If Massachusetts does move to the Atlantic Time Zone and opt out of DST, then the Commonwealth would be an hour ahead for roughly four months each year. …

Based on its research and findings, and after weighing the costs and benefits associated with the observance of time in Massachusetts, the Commission believes that, under certain circumstances, the Commonwealth could make a data-driven case for moving to the Atlantic Time Zone year-round (effectively observing year-round DST). Although there are appreciable costs associated with making this change, on balance the Commission finds that doing so could have positive benefits that largely stem from the absence of a spring transition to DST and the additional hour of winter evening daylight.

However, the Commission does not recommend a simple switch to the Atlantic Time Zone, and cautions that several qualifiers should accompany future conversations or legislative proposals with respect to how Massachusetts observes time. The Commission offers the following blueprint of concerns for a thoughtful implementation of year-round DST, should Massachusetts ever decide to pursue this policy change:

• Regional action. Massachusetts should only move to year-round DST if a majority of other Northeast states – possibly including New York – also do so. To facilitate regional action, the Legislature and Governor should raise this issue with other Northeastern legislative and executive bodies, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, Coalition of Northeast Governors, and gatherings of New England Governors and Easter Canadian Premiers.

• Later school start-times. Any move to year-round DST should be accompanied by statewide standards for delaying school start-times to mitigate safety issues; improve student academic performance, health, and well-being; and add significantly to the other economic benefits related to year-round DST.

• Public awareness. The Commonwealth should not adopt year-round DST unless it simultaneously commits funding to educate the public about the implications of the change. Even if Massachusetts does not adopt year-round DST, public awareness initiatives about transitions to and from DST would still be beneficial. For instance, public health announcements preceding the spring transition to DST would help residents prepare for the sleep loss caused by the transition so that they could try to mitigate its negative consequences.

It will be interesting to see if within the next decade or so, Massachusetts decides to keep DST, which would move us into the Atlantic Time Zone. If it happens, it will probably be all of New England and maybe New York too. Only time will tell!

Show Your Obamacare Rebate! Thanks Obama!

We made it to October 1st and saved the Affordable Care Act! The special rules in place to pass the legislation with just 50 votes, using Pence to break the tie, expired yesterday.

The Republicans frenzy to repeal the ACA was cruel on so many levels. The failure to repeal will no doubt save many lives. I’m sure that Jimmy Kimmel speaking out about his experiences had a lot to do with keeping Obamacare alive.

One of the many benefits of the ACA is that it places requirements on health insurance companies that benefit those of us who subscribe to health care plans. One of the most beneficial requirements is the 80/20 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule generally requires insurance companies to spend at least 80% of the money they take in from premiums on health care costs and quality improvement activities. The other 20% can go to administrative, overhead, and marketing costs.

The 80/20 rule is sometimes known as Medical Loss Ratio, or MLR. If an insurance company uses 80 cents out of every premium dollar to pay for your medical claims and activities that improve the quality of care, the company has a Medical Loss Ratio of 80%.

Insurance companies selling to large groups (usually more than 50 employees) must spend at least 85% of premiums on care and quality improvement.

If your insurance company doesn’t meet these requirements, you’ll get a rebate on part of the premium that you paid.

Yesterday, I received a rebate check in the mail! It was a nice surprise and much needed. I’ve received a few rebate checks over the years and most likely many other people have as well.

Have you received an Obamacare rebate?

It’s quite striking to me that after just finishing their latest attempt to repeal Obamacare, now republicans are trying to give the richest of the rich a tax cut and raise taxes on the rest of us.

The Obamacare rebate is a boost to everyone regardless of income. I think this rebate should be more widely discussed. Shouldn’t we be talking about extra money in our pockets because of Obamacare?

How many of us are receiving it? Let’s share on social media if we receive this rebate and thank President Obama for the Obamacare rebate. Thanks Obama!