Paid family and medical leave: A cornerstone of equity and opportunity for workers and families

2016-05-Family-and-Medical-Leave-briefEstablishing universal paid family and medical leave in the United States is critical to restoring economic security for working families and overcoming the entrenched inequities of race, gender, and class that undermine our economy and squash opportunity for far too many.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly confirms the importance of paid parental leave to the health and well-being of young children. With our population aging, more workers have responsibilities for caring for older family members and are themselves more at risk of serious illness or injury that may also require a lengthy time away from work.

Currently in the United States, the highest income employees often have generous employer-provided paid leave benefits that allow them to nurture a new child, care for a parent with a health crisis, and fully recover from their own serious health conditions. Middle and lower income workers, on the other hand, have limited or no access to paid leave, forcing them to choose between their family’s health or economic security.

As of 2014, the United States and Papua New Guinea were the only two out of 185 countries and territories in the world that did not guarantee paid maternity leave. Most developed economies also provide paid paternity leave along with guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time.[1]

Fortunately, programs in California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island provide highly successful models of family and disability leave programs that other states can replicate. Washington and other states can learn from the experience in these states to craft their own programs in ways that assure that all workers have access, regardless of income or occupation, and that businesses of all sizes can support their workers and communities and continue to thrive.

Adopting statewide paid family and medical leave programs to assure all workers access to paid leave is a crucial step toward overcoming health disparities and inequality in the U.S., and the key to eventual Congressional action to make universal and portable family and medical leave accessible to all U.S. workers.[2]

The benefits of paid family and medical leave include boosting infant and parent health, promoting family economic security and equity, protecting workers’ health, and supporting elder and family care. But currently, the benefits associated with lengthy paid parental leaves in the U.S. are available mostly to babies lucky enough to be born in one of the handful of states with a disability insurance/family leave program, or whose parents are highly paid professionals with especially generous employers. Extended time off work with pay to go through treatment and fully recover from serious illness or injury, or care for a family member, is also not available to most workers.

Federal and local policy successes – including the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and State Disability and Family Leave Insurance Programs – point the way forward. While Washington state’s progress has been somewhat stymied by business lobby opposition and economic downturns, the need for policy change on paid leave is increasingly in the national spotlight.

Despite all this activity, the U.S. remains a long way from universal paid family leave. While many individual business owners support paid leave legislation, most business lobby associations at the local, state, and federal levels oppose new labor standards and and actively campaign against them.[51] The path to eventual Congressional victory will be long and will require additional states to adopt programs and provide even more proof that family-friendly policies are fully compatible with a strong economy and strong businesses.

In the meantime, state lawmakers can learn from the proven results in states with Temporary Disability Insurance and/or Paid Family Leave laws on the books, where outcome for both workers have been positive and businesses have continued to enjoy success. Experience from existing state programs suggests that policy details and implementation strategies can be crafted to maximize the positive impacts of family and medical leave insurance on health and family economic security.

Policy considerations include:

  • ­Leaves need to be long enough to meet common basic health needs of workers, infants, and family members.
  • ­Wage replacement rates need to be structured so that low- and moderate-income workers can afford to take time off, along with higher income.
  • ­Providing job security to workers beyond FMLA will also enhance the ability of economically vulnerable workers to take leaves.

Implementation considerations:

  • ­Educational materials to employers must be clear and provided through a variety of methods. Employers need to understand what they must do to comply, with minimal confusion and paperwork. Most workers will find out about the program through their employers, so employers must know when an employee is likely to be eligible for benefits and where to direct the employee to apply.
  • ­Outreach to workers must also be multipronged and continuous, including through health providers and community organizations, particularly those who serve lower income and other vulnerable workers who are least likely to otherwise know about benefits available to them.
  • ­The application process must be simple, with help available in multiple languages and culturally appropriate ways.

The evidence is consistent and compelling: establishing family and medical leave insurance for all workers will reduce health disparities, dramatically improve outcomes for young children, enhance the quality of life of seniors, boost the lifetime earnings of women, and reduce the high social and public costs associated with poverty and inequality in the United States. We have proven policy tools to enact universal, portable, low cost systems at the state and federal levels now. Voters of all parties support adoption of these policies. It is time for Washington and other states to move forward.

Excerpted from EOI policy brief: Paid Family and Medical Leave: A Cornerstone of Equity and Opportunity for Workers and Families »

This Is What Parental Leave Really Looks Like In America

shuller family photoAmerica is facing a national crisis. It is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer paid time off to new parents — and moms and dads are struggling.

The current national policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act, only offers parents 12 weeks of leave — but that’s unpaid, if the parents are even eligible. A handful of states have tried to compensate with their own paid leave laws, but with only four states nationwide that offer them so far, they’re the exception, not the rule.

As a result, families are at the behest of their workplace to determine how much time off they’ll get with their new baby, if any, before they have to go back to work. In a system that depends on employer generosity, the results leave much to be desired: Only 12 percent of private-sector workers have paid family leave.

When parents don’t have paid family leave, the outcomes are devastating: 1 in 4 working moms return to work less than two weeks after giving birth. They suffer higher rates of depression and stress, and their babies experience more health risks as they are breastfed less and brought to fewer medical appointments.

Families as a whole suffer without paid leave, as parents are forced to take unpaid time off to be with their new child, causing some families to fall into poverty.

The Huffington Post spoke to eight families across the country to see how they brought their babies into the world without assured paid time off. These are their stories »

Rethinking the Work-Life Equation

Illustration by James Graham for New York Times Magazine

Illustration by James Graham for the New York Times Magazine

It takes more than just policies to make a workplace truly flexible. The whole office culture has to change. So — read this paragraph, and guess what happened to office culture and productivity in this workplace:

“Workers in the experimental group were told they could work wherever, and whenever, they chose so long as projects were completed on time and goals were met; the new emphasis would be on results rather than on the number of hours spent in the office. Managers were trained to be supportive of their employees’ personal issues and were formally encouraged to open up about their own priorities outside work — an ill parent, or a child wanting her mom to watch her soccer games. Managers were given iPods that buzzed twice a day to remind them to think about the various ways they could support their employees as they managed their jobs and home lives.”

Find out what happened in the New York Times Magazine »

Tell WA legislators: Unleash the Family and Medical Leave Act

grandpaWe all need access to long-term leave at some point — whether to nurture a new child, fight cancer, or care for an aging parent. But too many Washington workers don’t have that option. They have to sacrifice health and family well-being to cover their bills.

Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FaMLI) bill would protect people in those situations. But as of week three of a sixty-day legislative session, the FaMLI bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing. Without leadership’s approval, the bill will die in the Appropriations Committee, without even a chance for consideration by the full legislature.

Washington voters deserve to know whether their elected leaders will stand up and support our families. Please urge your representative to push for a hearing on the FaMLI bill in the House Appropriations Committee.

Sweden Is About To Give New Fathers A Third Month Of Paid Paternity Leave

Photo: Rasmus Andersson/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Rasmus Andersson/Flickr Creative Commons

Sweden is a great place to be a dad, and the country is about to make things even better for soon-to-be fathers.

Beginning in 2016, men in the country will be entitled to a third (yes, third) month of paid paternal leave based on a new government proposal. The new plan builds on one of the world’s most generous parental leave policies, with nearly 90 percent of Swedish fathers using the benefit.

Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted; 390 of those are paid at 80 percent of normal pay and, as of now, 60 of those are reserved exclusively for fathers. The days can be taken up until a child turns 8, and each new child garners new days of paid leave, so parents are able to accumulate days from several children.

If the days reserved for paternal leave aren’t used, they’re lost, encouraging both parents to stay home when a child is born. But parents are also legally entitled to cut their working hours by up to 25 percent until a child’s eighth birthday.

Sadly, fathers and mothers in the United States aren’t offered a package even remotely as generous.

Unless a company explicitly offers the benefit — or a person lives in California, Rhode Island or New Jersey — the United States doesn’t have paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles full-time workers at companies with 50 or more employees to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, Bloomberg notes. But only half of workers in America are covered by the policy; freelancers, part-time employees, those at small businesses and others aren’t provided with even that limited allotment.

Full Story: Huffington Post »

Why Does Becoming a Mom Mean Potentially Losing Your Job?

Washington State’s Failure to Mandate Paid Parental Leave Hurts Gender Equity, Parents, and Kids

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

My best friend from graduate school and I will both become first-time mothers this year. As a citizen of Ireland, my friend will be able to stay home with her baby for almost a year and then return to her present career path. As an American state employee, I can either stay home with my child or maintain my current career trajectory—and I’m one of the lucky ones because I get to actually make a choice.

Irish law includes a “maternity benefit” that pays 80 percent of wages to new mothers during the first 26 weeks after birth, and can begin two weeks before birth if needed. An additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave is optional. In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires that employers grant only 12 weeks of leave to new mothers, and payment of wages during this time is decided state by state. Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid leave; Washington State passed a law in 2007 requiring paid leave for new parents, but it hasn’t gone into effect because it lacks funding.

If I don’t want to leave my baby at three months of age to go back to work, I will give up my job in—ironically—global health and look for work again once my child goes to school. And to my knowledge, none of the places where I currently freelance, including The Stranger, offer paid maternity leave or anything beyond the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid time off. In a part of the country where global-health work is incredibly competitive and underfunded, I’ll most likely be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get back into the workforce. But my Irish friend will be able to jump back into her field with the seniority and security she’s built up over the last 10 years since we graduated and parted ways.

Numerous studies prove that women who receive paid maternity leave are more likely to return to their jobs, thereby remaining contributing, upwardly mobile members of the workforce, so why is the United States the sole industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate some amount of paid leave?

Full Story: The Stranger »

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Paid Family Leave

Did you miss this? Take a few minutes to revel in last’s night’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”, in which J.O. gloriously skewers U.S. paid leave policies, mocks anti-family leave legislators and creates an unbelievably wonderful, side-splitting, tear-inducing piece.

Click to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (opens in new window)

Click to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (opens in new window)