A recent newspaper headline grabbed my attention – “Why Do Few Take Paid Family Leave.” If it had said “Why do few take unpaid family leave,” I would certainly have understood. BUT, few taking “paid family leave!?” Why is that? The short reason – the employee’s job is not guaranteed. With that possibility, of course few take it.
The Los Angeles Times article pointed out a report by the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research that stated only 25% to 40% of California mothers eligible for the state leave actually take it. And, overall, less than 2% of all workers in the state used the benefit from 2013 to 2014. With such meager participation numbers, it’s obvious that job security wins out over 6 weeks of leave at generally 55% of a mother’s weekly wage.
For California parents and any other parent in the U.S. (except Rhode Island), only the Family Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”) protects an employee’s job when taking family leave. But, the FMLA does not provide for paid leave. It truly becomes a Hobson’s choice:
The real problem is not with California’s law. It’s the fact that the United States, as a nation, does not have any form of paid family leave. Out of 185 countries, it’s only the United States, Suriname and Papua New Guinea that do not have paid leave for mothers of infants. Suriname is run by a President with purported ties to a Guyanese drug trafficker and whose son plead guilty to terrorism charges and drug trafficking in 2014 in New York. Papua New Guinea is a source and destination for children subjected to sex trafficking and where parents can sell girls into forced marriages to settle debts or as peace offerings. When it comes to caring for families and children, we do NOT want any part of this group.
California, Rhode Island and New Jersey lead the way in the U.S. with paid family leave. Their programs are built upon temporary disability insurance programs and funded by employee payroll deductions. The National Partnership for Woman & Families has a summary of each of these state’s paid family leave laws along with New York (where paid leave goes into effect in 2018) and the state of Washington (where it is not clear when its paid leave will go into effect).
Since 1993, the FMLA provides employees with 12 weeks of unpaid family leave upon birth or adoption of child and illness of a family member if the employee had been employed for 12 months by an employer with generally 50 or more employees. Only somewhere between 4%[i] to 17%[ii] of the workplaces in the U.S. are even covered by the FMLA. That leaves a lot of employees with no leave options.
There are plenty of reports and research on the use and impact of leave policies and how they benefit both employees and employers and can improve competitiveness. Silicon Valley employers are in a race to the top when it comes to leave policies where Netflix now provides unlimited paid parental leave during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
When it comes to our Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton supports paid family leave by taxing the wealthy and for 12 weeks, Bernie Sanders supports paid family leave for 12 weeks, and the Donald Trump campaign appears to have no position on this subject.
It is way past the time to get serious about paid family leave. We need to look to Congress to legislate paid family leave and it needs to:
- Be available to all workers no matter the size of the employer;
- Require no more than 3 months’ continuous employment to be eligible for the leave;
- Provide 39 weeks of paid leave (we have to start somewhere so let’s at least match the UK, but keep in mind that our neighbor to the north provides 52 weeks)
- Be funded through a payroll deduction;
- Be available for the first two years after birth, adoption or foster placement of a child;
- Provide job security as currently in FMLA;
It’s time to make paid family leave a reality!