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October 15, 2022 / Building Bridges

Reimagining paid leave for the self employed

Althea Erickson

Althea Erickson is the Director of the Sol Center for Liberated Work, a program of the Center for Cultural Innovation. Previously, Althea was the Vice President, Global Government Affairs and Impact at Etsy, and Advocacy & Policy Director at Freelancers Union.

What might a truly great paid leave program look like for the self-employed? And, if we can get paid leave working for independent contractors, how might that become the model for delivering other types of safety net protections?

The question of making paid leave work for the self-employed is a little more complicated than it might seem. Just look at the differences between the 12 states and municipalities that already have paid leave programs, and you start to realize that there are many different answers, and unfortunately, very few policy makers have considered the question at all.

Some states require independent workers to pay twice what traditional employees pay into the system, while others have multi-year waiting periods between enrollment and the ability to use the benefit. Across the board, very few governments invest in getting the word out to independent workers, so take up is usually dismal, regardless of program design. 

Hospital use of technology in a doctor's medical practice
Courtesy of Stocksy. Medical Doctor, patient using doctor’s tablet. Photo by PER Images.

When it comes to the self-employed, policy makers seem stuck on trying to retrofit program designs that work for employees, rather than designing something based on the needs, challenges, and specific ways non-traditional workers earn income, especially those operating at the margins, like informal workers, street vendors, and undocumented workers, among others.  

That’s why, on October 3rd, 2022, we co-hosted a convening, entitled Paid Leave for the Self-Employed, alongside the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Freelancers Union. The hybrid event, held in-person at the CAP offices in Washington DC, as well as virtually, brought together representatives of the independent workforce alongside policy experts and advocates working on the issue of paid family and medical leave. 

The goal of the event was to imagine what a truly great paid leave benefit for the self-employed might look like, and chart the beginnings of a path to advance that vision. The event laid the groundwork for future relationships and alliances among participants (many of whom had never met before), while simultaneously bringing both worker advocates and paid leave policy experts into a deep discussion about the opportunities and challenges of imagining a system that actually works for the most excluded workers. 

Going forward, we’ll be publishing the outcomes of the discussion, as well as working with participants to advocate for more inclusive paid leave policies at the state and federal levels. 

Convening Participants 

Drew Ambrogi, 

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, National Community Reinvestment Coalition 

Jennelyn Bailon, Center for Cultural Innovation 

Chanda Causer, Main Street Alliance 

Althea Erickson, Center for Cultural Innovation 

Rafael Espinal, Freelancers Union 

Aurelia Glass, Center for American Progress 

Cassandra Gomez, A Better Balance 

Pronita Gupta, Workshop 

Adrian Haro, Workers Lab 

Josie Kalipeni, Family Values at Work 

Angie Kim, Center for Cultural Innovation

Namatie Manseray, MomsRising 

Nathaniel Marro, Music Workers Alliance 

Jake McDonald, National Partnership for Women & Families

Sapna Mehta, Center for Law and Social Policy

Hope Mohr, Guilded 

Mary Rasenberger, Authors Guild 

Vasu Reddy, National Partnership for Women & Families Bela Salas-Betsch, Center for American Progress 

Vicki Shabo, New America Foundation 

Meredith Shaffer, Public Private Strategies 

Naomi Smith, Main Street Alliance 

Shelly Steward, Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative

Meredith Tannor, Freelancers Union 

Molly Weston Williamson, Center for American Progress 

Haeyoung Yoon, National Domestic Workers Alliance

Jeffrey Zubricki, Etsy

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