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Jodie Levin-Epstein's picture

Vacations are good for your health.   And, you don’t need to get away to any fancy Caribbean retreat to get the benefit of time-off from work.  But it helps if you are a horse.  In New York City, that is.

The City’s Health Department has proposed new rules for those horses hitched to carriages that carry tourists around parts of town.  If implemented, the horses would get 5 weeks of job-protected vacation.  During their time off, the horses would continue to enjoy their standard payment – room and board, along with grooming.  It is a reasonable business decision to invest in these workers since the vacation time will likely prolong their work-life and enhance their productivity.  Added to the economics are the ethics of humane treatment of animals.  The Health Department apparently considers the 5 weeks to be akin to a minimum labor standard.  An advisory committee had urged that the horses get 8 weeks based upon ‘best practices’; in defending a shorter vacation, Daniel Kass, a department official noted, "Operators are invited to give them more."

It’s time for Congress and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to pony-up to the value of vacation for two-legged workers.  Workers outside the federal government, that is.  Federal workers are entitled to 13 vacation days starting in year one.  No wonder the federal government is often viewed as a desirable employer-of-choice. For the rest of the nation’s workforce, however, no federal law provides any paid time off – and that includes vacation, holidays, and sick time.  As the Department of Labor explains it, “These benefits are a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee.” One result of that ‘agreement’ is that among working parent households, fully 41 percent of those with incomes below twice the federal poverty level have no paid time off of any kind.  While higher income workers tend to have paid leave, they, too, can miss out; for example 17 percent of white collar private workers have no paid vacation.   And, even before the recession, what employers gave, they sometimes took away.  Access to paid vacation, sick days, and holidays was less likely in 2006 compared to prior peak years.

Legislation has been introduced that would begin to give the U.S. human workforce parity with the standards proposed for the Big Apple’s equine workers. A bill that would provide for paid vacations was introduced in Congress in 2009 (while all carriage horses in New York are expected to get 5 weeks, the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives for human employees would enable them to access one or two weeks, depending on the size of their employers).  Other pending legislation would provide paid sick days and allow most workers to take up to 7 days in a year to treat or prevent illness, or to take care of a loved one.  Numerous national organizations including MomsRising, Take Back Your Time, The National Partnership for Women and Families, and the Center for Law and Social Policy are trying to move these and related paid leave bills.

Other nations provide paid time off.  Nearly 160 have accepted a UN covenant which declares that all countries should "recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work which ensure, in particular, reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays." Indeed, among the world’s 15 most competitive countries, 14 provide paid sick leave, 14 provide paid annual leave, 13 guarantee a weekly day of rest, 13 provide paid leave for new mothers and 12 for new fathers according toRaising the Global Floor.

Giving U.S. workers some paid time off just makes horse sense.  If horses can get it, why can’t their bosses?

A Peaceful Revolution is a Huffington Post blog about innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change.  Done in collaboration with, read a new post at the Huffington Post each week.

Jodie Levin-Epstein is Deputy Director of CLASP, a national non-profit organization which promotes policy solutions that work for low income people.  As part of her focus on the conditions of work—such as paid leave and workplace flexibility— Jodie has written a variety of publications including Getting Punched: The Job and Family Clock.

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