Journal of Leadership and the Law

Summer Experience Highlight: Comparative Study of American Employment Law and Employment Directives Established by The European Union

By Brittney Burch

During the summer of 2015, Elon University School of Law and Elon University Martha Spencer Love School of Business offered the opportunity for a summer abroad experience for both Law and Business students in England and Ireland. As a dual JD/MBA candidate, I had the great opportunity to experience the correlation between business and law in a global setting. The trip enabled students to visit several companies such as, Regeneron, Dell, Amec Foster Wheeler and Siemens Magnet Technology. The key highlight from the company visits was the distinct difference in employee morale and retention when compared to employees working in The United States. Viewing these differences initiated a comparative study between American Employment Law and the employment directives established by the European Union (EU).

When visiting companies in both England and Ireland, the company representatives highlighted benefits that their employees receive, which contribute to higher retention rates and workplace efficiency. Paid medical care, incentivized working programs (gift cards for excellent employees), and a simple acknowledgment of valuable contributions are just a couple ways the companies made their employees feel valued. In addition to the company initiated policies and programs, the EU directives establish legal rights for employees by which the companies are bound. The major highlights are: 26 weeks of paid maternity leave,1 paid annual leave of at least four weeks per year, a limit to weekly working hours not to exceed 48 hours, and free health assessments for night workers. Now, when comparing EU directives with those in the United States—consistently ranked as one of the richest countries in the world—the differences are disheartening. Several years ago, a policy brief labeled the United States “No Vacation Nation USA”.2 Despite the passage of several years, the title is applicable to describe our nation’s employment laws. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is used to allow employees paid leave for medical reasons. FMLA covers childbirth, personal health issues, and care of an immediate family member. The act allows workers to take twelve workweeks of leave in any twelve-month period, but most importantly, the leave is unpaid. Moreover, the average amount of paid time off (PTO) for American workers is only two weeks in comparison to four weeks in the EU. PTO is usually given to full time workers, which leaves part-time workers with no option but to forego pay when in need of time off. The EU allows both full-time and part-time employees to have PTO with part-time employees PTO calculated at a pro-rata share based on the numbers of hours worked.

During the company visits, it was evident that one of the major aspects that the companies had in common were employee longevity, loyalty, and morale. It is undeniable that the progressive employment directives are somewhat responsible for the impressive working conditions of companies abroad. It is unclear why The United States has lagged so far behind in employment practices. The United States is commonly associated with the American dream, prosperity and the land of opportunity.  The American dream is not analogous with unpaid medical leave, minimal paid time off, and longer working days. With such limited employment incentives and programs for American workers, is the United States truly consistent with the American Dream?

FOOTNOTES

1.) Maternity leave includes an option for an additional 26 weeks extension, which is commonly unpaid. The ability to extend leave to include a total of 52 weeks is still valuable to families.
2.) Rebecca Ray & John Schmitt, No-Vacation nation USA- a comparison of leave and holiday in OECD countries. (2007), http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/lwp/papers/no_holidays.pdf.