In 2009, the head of the Quinlan Companies had a hard decision to make. The recession had taken its toll on the Rhode Island-based records-management firm. Customers were canceling contracts. Revenue was down. It looked like there would have to be layoffs. Then, CEO Mike Cooley heard about “work share,” a program run by the state that offered a solution.
“We cut back hours, and the state paid workers a percentage of their lost wages. In the end, we didn’t have to lay off any employees. It helped us get back on our feet,” Cooley says.
Rhode Island’s work-share program has been operating since 1992. It’s designed to help business owners avoid layoffs when times get tough and state officials say it’s saved more than 15,000 jobs since the start of the recession.
“Work share benefits both sides,” says Wayne Vroman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank focused on economic and social policy research. “Employers get to retain skilled workers and at the same time workers aren’t getting laid off.”
Work share requires business owners to scale back hours for full-time employees by 10 to 50 percent. Employees can then earn unemployment benefits for the time they aren’t on the clock. This helps offset lost wages, but workers can still expect to feel the financial pinch. (The combination of regular pay for hours worked and unemployment doled out for docked time adds up to roughly 91 percent of what an employee would normally make.) Businesses can participate in the program for up to three consecutive years. The only exception is seasonal business models, which are not eligible.
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