At some point, nearly everyone needs time to recover from a serious illness or care for a sick loved one or new child. But the majority of working people in the United States cannot take the time they need without risking their jobs or economic security.
Some people use the term paid leave to mean a few different things. Paid leave can include:
– paid time to care for a seriously ill loved one, which can also be called paid family leave.
– paid time to care for a new child in the home, which sometimes is called paid parental leave.
– paid time to care for yourself when you have a major illness or accident, which is sometimes called disability or medical leave.
– paid time to care for a routine illness for a day or two, which is called paid sick days.
When Family Values @ Work talks about paid leave, we are talking about the occasional times you need paid time to care for yourself, your loved ones, and to care for a new child in the home. When we talk about paid sick days, or earned sick time, we mean having a guarantee to some days each year to care for short-term illness.
The only national standard in the United States related to this is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which became law in 1993. FMLA allows for people who work for larger companies to have unpaid, job-protected time to care for themselves, a new child (through birth, adoption or foster care) or a seriously ill child, spouse or parent. While FMLA has been used 200 million times since its inception, many people struggle to make ends meet when they are in a family crisis and have to take time without pay. A recent study shows that nearly one in four pregnant women who are employed return to work within two weeks of giving birth, primarily because they cannot afford to go without pay. Also, the FMLA leaves out 40 percent of the workforce and excludes even more by its narrow definition of family.
Currently, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have family and medical leave insurance programs. Most people who work in those states have access to a significant portion of their wages through the insurance fund should they need it. New York, which currently has paid leave only for an individual’s own illness, will add up to 12 weeks of paid, job protected leave for bonding and family care beginning in 2018. These wins are the results of broad and diverse coalitions within the Family Values @ Work network.
Paid leave has remarkable benefits for workers, employers, and the economy. Women are more likely to return to work, parents use less public assistance if they received paid leave, and families are less likely to file for bankruptcy. Affordable time to care also helps the health of the person who takes the leave and their loved ones.