Strategy overview

  • Striking a balance between employment, family, and health: Worker protection and well-being policies and interventions seek to help residents — primarily workers earning an hourly wage — maintain a reasonable balance between earning a sustainable income, remaining healthy and recovering from illness, and taking care of family members. Such interventions can help reduce the burdens placed on workers, who, without protections, often have to choose between going to work or forgoing that income (and often risking being fired) to care for a loved one or stay home with illness.
  • Improving scheduling practices: Some interventions zero in on how workers are scheduled for their shifts. For instance, flexible scheduling policies allow workers to determine their shift schedules in accordance with their needs, such as when a child has a half day at school. Meanwhile, predictable scheduling policies ensure that workers know their shift schedules at least two weeks in advance, which enables them to attend to non-work obligations (such as coursework, childcare, or medical appointments) much more easily.
  • Prioritizing worker health: Another goal of some worker protection interventions is to maintain and improve worker health. Paid sick leave laws, for instance, provide workers with up to 40 hours of paid time off if they or a loved one are ill. Similarly, flexible scheduling policies can allow for workers to attend a doctor’s appointment — many of which are only available during common working hours.
  • Extending protections to family members: Many worker protection and well-being interventions include explicit supports for a worker’s family members. For instance, paid sick leave laws often include a provision allowing workers to use the time to care for a loved one, while flexible scheduling laws help working parents more easily attend to their children’s needs.

What evidence supports this strategy?

Policies that promote and protect worker well-being have generated positive results in multiple meta-analyses and rigorous studies; however, further research is necessary to confirm the magnitude and duration of effects.

  • A 2021 meta-analysis of paid sick leave policies concluded that it can be associated with increased use of health care and preventative medicine, like vaccinations and cancer screenings. 

  • A second 2021 meta-analysis found that flexible scheduling arrangements are associated with better physical health and reduced absenteeism.

  • A rigorous evaluation of fair workweek legislation in Seattle found that the law increased schedule predictability and improved subjective well-being measures, sleep quality, and economic security.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Implementing protections for worker well-being has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are financial security, opportunities for income, employment opportunities, jobs paying living wages, and access to health services.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring financial security in your community: Examine the share of households with debt in collections. These data are available from the Urban Institute’s Debt in America website.

  • Measuring opportunities for income in your community: Examine the household income at 20th, 50th, and 80th percentiles. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring the opportunity for living wage employment: Examine the ratio of pay on an average job to the cost of living. These data are available from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

  • Measuring access to health services in your community: Examine the ratio of residents to primary care physicians. These data are available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Area Health Resource File.

Best practices in implementation

  • Securing vocal champions among government leaders: Vocal champions at the highest levels of local government, such as executives and legislators, are instrumental in enacting new protections for workers. Champions can help promote stronger, more robust legislation, increase budget allocations for enforcement, build awareness of new laws among workers, and increase compliance among businesses.
  • Conduct direct outreach to raise awareness among workers: Many worker protection laws are complaint-driven rather than actively enforced. Therefore, it is crucial to engage with as many workers as possible to inform them of their rights and what to do if an employer violates them. Outreach should be conducted in multiple languages and can include public information sessions, visits to businesses, advertising and social media campaigns, and more.
  • Invest in enforcement capacity: Even with the complaint-driven nature of most interventions, adequate enforcement capacity to respond to worker complaints is a crucial component of implementation. Formal investigations require significant resources, especially staff time. Funding multiple positions — including investigating attorneys and even data scientists — can help increase the likelihood that workers receive restitution and incentivize compliance among employers.
  • Engage with businesses during policy design period: To maximize compliance, solicit input prior to implementation from business owners. Doing so can help policymakers identify allies in the business community, who can be powerful messengers in building public support, and eliminate unnecessary pain points, costs, or administrative burdens associated with compliance (i.e. ensuring that rules are compatible with common scheduling software).

Evidence-based examples

Financial assistance for child care to working parents
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment
Empowers employees with latitude to help define work schedules, such as start and end times and days of the week
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment
Requires all or most employers operating within a jurisdiction to provide workers with paid time off to care for themselves or a loved one when sick
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment
Requires businesses to provide hourly workers (primarily in fast food restaurants and retail chains) with schedules at least 14 days in advance
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment