Global Study Finds Critical Gaps in Workplace Protections Laws prohibiting discrimination are key to ensuring equal economic opportunity, UCLA researchers say

As throngs of people around the world stand in solidarity with American protesters calling for an end to racial injustice, a sweeping study of 193 countries by the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center reveals critical gaps in legal protections against discrimination on the job.

Nearly one in four countries continue to have no legal protection from discrimination at work based on race and ethnicity, according to the study, just published in the journal Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

This is not a question of a nation’s resources, researchers found. In fact, high-income countries do slightly worse: 28% of high-income countries fail to have any protections, compared to 19% of low-income countries and 23% of middle-income countries.

Even in countries that prohibit discrimination, substantial gaps in legal protections exist. Globally, 51% of countries offer no protection from retaliation against workers who report discriminatory treatment based on race or ethnicity, preventing individuals from accessing justice, the study revealed.

Moreover, laws against discrimination often provided only partial protection or failed to specify areas covered. The study analyzed laws and regulations governing hiring, pay, promotions and demotions, terminations and harassment in all 193 members of the United Nations.

“Discrimination at work persists across countries, but there is powerful evidence that anti-discrimination laws can make a difference,” said Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public policy, health policy and management, and medicine at UCLA. “All the world’s countries have agreed to address inequality, over and over again, at the U.N. This cannot be achieved without providing legal guarantees to non-discrimination at work for all people.”

In addition to race and ethnicity, WORLD researchers assessed gaps in national legislation protecting against discrimination based on sex, parenting status, gender identity, sexual orientation, migrant status and foreign national origin, among other groupings. Among the findings:

• 53% of the countries do not guarantee equal pay for work of equal value based on sex
• 62% do not prohibit discrimination based on parenting status
• 68% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation
• 90% do not guarantee protection from discrimination at work based on gender identity
• 62% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on migrant status
• 62% do not guarantee protection from discrimination based on foreign national origin

“Equal access to decent work is one of the most promising ways to end cycles of poverty, yet discrimination on the job persists,” said study co-author Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD. “Legal protection from workplace discrimination is a critical first step to ensuring equal opportunities for economic success.”

In addition to the newly published research, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center has posted detailed data, maps, charts and policy briefs on workplace discrimination in four categories: race and ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and migrant status.

Paid Sick Leave a Crucial Weapon During COVID-19 Era and Beyond Global study shows that gaps in coverage for ailing workers put nations’ health and economic security at risk

By Mary Braswell

At a time when the world’s attention is focused on curbing the spread of infectious disease, new research by the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center shows that strengthening guarantees of paid sick leave is crucial to protecting health and economic security around the globe.

Just published in the journal Global Public Health, the study found that almost every country (94%) mandates some form of paid sick leave at the national level. The United States is one of 11 countries that do not.

Yet, even in nations that guarantee paid time off for illness, the analysis showed critical gaps that undermined the ability of sick workers to follow public health advice and stay home from the very first day of illness. This was true in such countries as Italy and Iran, among the hardest hit in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the study noted.

Rules that limit the duration of leave, set low rates of pay and exclude certain classes of employees put countries’ health and economic systems at risk, the study concluded. The global health emergency underscores the consequences.

‘The cost of providing paid sick leave is modest compared to the cost of reining in a pandemic.’ — Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center

“The cost of providing paid sick leave is modest compared to the cost of reining in a pandemic,” said Jody Heymann, founder of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a distinguished professor of public policy, health policy and management, and medicine at UCLA.

“This is particularly true once the more rapid spread of disease caused by workers going to work sick is factored in,” said study co-author Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD. She pointed to previous studies showing that ill employees are 1.5 times more likely to go to work when they lack strong paid leave guarantees.

Heymann and Raub led the research team that analyzed government policies in all 193 U.N. member states to answer an array of questions: When do paid sick leave benefits begin and how long do they last? What is the rate of pay? Are self-employed and part-time workers covered? Are there exemptions for small businesses? The findings are based on long-term policies in place as of March 2019 and do not reflect temporary policy changes in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“The pandemic provides a stark illustration that expanding sick leave protections to the world’s workers is urgently needed,” Raub said.

Recognizing that their paid sick leave policies left them ill-equipped to combat COVID-19, countries around the world put stronger protections in place. However, Heymann said, “these temporary changes do not ensure that countries are prepared for the next pandemic.”

“In the last 20 years, the world has battled a series of acute health emergencies,” said Heymann, citing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002, the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012, among other outbreaks. “And new and dangerous respiratory diseases are bound to emerge.”

“Well-designed paid sick leave is critical to ensure workers stay home when sick to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious pathogens — both when the economy is open and during an economic shutdown,” Raub said.

The new study found strong sick-leave policies in place in both low-income and affluent countries. In key areas, the United States’ record lagged far behind:

  • The U.S. has no permanent national sick leave policy, although some state and local governments have adopted protections.
  • Even if the nationwide emergency paid sick leave act adopted amid the coronavirus outbreak were made permanent, the U.S. would be the only country to exclude workers from the benefits based solely on the size of the business they work for.

Beyond the United States, there are critical global gaps:

  • 58% of countries do not explicitly guarantee paid sick leave to self-employed workers. This group makes up nearly half of the world’s work force, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
  • 65% of countries — including 54% of high-income countries — do not explicitly guarantee paid sick leave to part-time workers. This gap disproportionately impacts women, who are more likely to be employed part time than men in nearly every country.

To conduct the study, the multilingual research team analyzed the full texts of labor and social security legislation, as well as other resources. For each of the 193 countries, source materials were read independently by two researchers, who then compared and reconciled their assessments.

View a fact sheet and maps illustrating key findings from this report here. Questions about the study may be directed to Erin Bresnahan at the WORLD Policy Analysis Center.

The WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA is a nonprofit policy research center that aims to improve the quantity and quality of globally comparative data on policies affecting human health, development, well-being and equity. With this data, WORLD informs policy debates and advances efforts to improve government transparency and accountability. The center’s founding director, Jody Heymann, is a distinguished professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, Luskin School of Public Affairs and David Geffen School of Medicine. She is also dean emeritus of the Fielding School.

Heymann Recommends Investing in Preventive Health Workforce

Distinguished Professor of Public Policy Jody Heymann co-authored an opinion piece in the Hill arguing that creation of a “preventive health workforce” is key to reopening the economy and protecting the nation’s health and security. Heymann and co-author Aleta Sprague called for investing in a “national cohort of health workers who can roll out each element of the national COVID-19 strategy” and would continue to reduce preventable deaths from other causes once the pandemic is contained. They argued that strengthening the public health infrastructure “would not only create hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time of unprecedented layoffs, it would vastly expand our capacity to contain this pandemic and prepare for the next.” They also recommended accelerating and simplifying loan forgiveness to incentivize more people with backgrounds in public health, law, social work, urban studies or health sciences to commit to preventive-health-related jobs as careers.


U.S. Lagging on Constitutional Rights, Study Finds

New research from the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center shows that the United States is falling behind its global peers when it comes to guarantees for key constitutional rights. “The new decade begins with clear constitutional gaps that place the United States in a global minority” for failing to guarantee rights to healthcare and gender equality, said Jody Heymann, founder of the nonprofit policy research center. “Globally, the U.S. now lags 165 other nations with stronger constitutional protections for women. And the U.S. is absent from the 142 countries globally … that provide some degree of constitutional protection for the right to health,” said Heymann, a distinguished professor of public policy, medicine, and health policy and management at UCLA. Worldwide, the center’s researchers found a considerable expansion of protections over the past 50 years but noted that millions are still left without human rights guarantees, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination. Groups experiencing the greatest gaps in rights guarantees include migrants, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. To produce the report, researchers analyzed the constitutions of all 193 United Nations member states. “Constitutions help shape social norms and send clear messages about who matters and what nations value,” Heymann said. The report is now available as an online resource featuring policy briefs, maps and downloadable data as well as the book “Advancing Equality,” available for  download at UC Press. The book’s authors, Heymann, Amy Raub and Aleta Sprague, also wrote an op-ed for CNN arguing that it’s time for the United States to guarantee gender equality by enshrining the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

Study Highlights Inequality for Families With Two Fathers

Same-sex male couples are losing out on paid parental leave when compared to both same-sex female and different-sex couples, according to research by the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA. The study, newly published in the Journal of Social Policy, compared labor, social security and parental leave legislation in 34 countries. Same-sex male couples received leave on par with other couples in only four of the 33 countries with national paid parental leave programs, the researchers found. Only one of the countries — the United States — offered no national paid parental leave to new birth parents. “While we didn’t find any legislation that explicitly prohibits same-sex couples from receiving paid parental leave, the way policies are structured or worded can nevertheless stop them from claiming benefits,” lead researcher Elizabeth Wong said. Jody Heymann, founding director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, added, “Families benefit when all parents, regardless of sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, can access paid leave to care for and bond with their children.” Heymann is a distinguished professor of public policy, medicine, and health policy and management at UCLA. The research was highlighted in a Reuters news article.


 

Heymann Leads Research on Disability Rights and Gender Equality

Two research efforts led by Jody Heymann, distinguished professor of public policy, medicine, and health policy and management at UCLA, were released recently at the United Nations and in the journal Lancet. Heymann is founding director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, which presented a report to a U.N. session on the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The report by the WORLD center, part of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, assessed compliance with the convention, which lays out global commitments to uphold the rights of those with disabilities. Since its adoption in 2006, 177 of the 193 U.N. member states have ratified the convention. “Every child on the planet has the right to fully accessible, quality education and every adult has the right to dignified work without discrimination, but not all countries are fulfilling these rights,” Heymann said. “Our analysis shows that the world is further behind in guaranteeing these fundamental human rights to persons with disabilities when compared to other groups.” The Lancet published research Heymann led on another topic: improving health by breaking down gender barriers. The researchers reviewed policies such as tuition-free primary education and paid parental leave, and assessed their potential to transform gender norms, battle inequality and make communities healthier. “Policymakers need to take the steps that have been proven to reduce discrimination and increase gender equality in education, work and income, each a social determinant of health,” the research team found.