BY NANCY SCHRINER
In a family-friendly-perfect world working parents would receive paid leave when welcoming a new child into their midst. Parents would never worry about losing their job; they would have flexible working hours so they could care for an ill child or aging parent, and they would have more time to become more involved in their child’s school activities. But this is not a perfect world . . . . Indeed, Georgia and 17 other states have received an “F” for their policies relating to how businesses treat new parents, according to a report released by the National Partnership for Women and Families. They earned an “F” grade because they offered no extra support for private sector or state workers beyond the federal mandates.
Work and family requires a full-time balancing act for millions of U.S. workers, and the U.S. lags far behind most of the world when it comes to family friendly health care laws. According to Jody Heymann, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families’ Social Policy, “More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of.” Of the 178 countries studied, all of the high income countries and many of the middle to low income countries, have paid maternity leave. Only three, Swaziland, the United States, and Papua New Guinea do not.
England guarantees 26 weeks of maternity pay, paid at 90% of the average weekly earnings, while Finland and Sweden offer up to one year of PAID LEAVE at 80%.
Maternity leave is mandatory in France, and women have paid leave for six weeks before giving birth and ten weeks after. As subsequent children are born, paid leave increases to 26 weeks. In addition, families with two children are provided with family allowances. Additional allowances are provided for single parents, for adoptions, for parental education, for special-needs children, for school-aged children, and for housing.
Currently in the U.S. there are only three federal laws which address any of these concerns:
~ The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) signed by President Clinton in 1993 allows workers access to 12 weeks of UNPAID, job-protected leave. Only half of U.S. workers are even eligible under this law, and workers must have worked at their job for at least one year accumulating 1250 hours in order to qualify. Many workers who needed FMLA (78%) did not take it because they could not afford to take unpaid leave (making it useless for them), according to a Department of Labor study.
~ The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women who are or may become pregnant from being fired, demoted, denied a promotion, or forced to quit work.
~ The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) amended by a 2010 health care reform law, provides nursing mothers the right to a private place at work to express breast milk.
While it is true that the United States government is doing a dismal job of protecting families and their health needs, individual states are not doing much better. This report was compiled ad published by the National Partnership for Women and Families, a Washington D.C. based organization that “promotes fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.” This newest report graded all 50 states.
Aside from the 18 states which received Fs, most other states earned a “C” grade or below! It is even more discouraging to see how little progress has been made between the first report in 2005 and this one in 2012. Of the nine states earning an “A” or “B”, New Jersey is the only one, along with California, which has enacted a law guaranteeing paid family leave. The other seven states, (plus the District of Columbia) Connecticut, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Maine, New York, and Illinois offer some state protection for working families; including expanding who the covered members of a family are, the types of care giving that’s covered, routine health care needs and leave for attending school functions.
California, with its “A” grade, leads the nation in state laws that are family-friendly. It is one of only five states that offer Temporary Disability Insurance or unemployment insurance which provides some pay for workers who have a serious health condition, or for a family member who needs care. In addition, thanks to a paid family leave insurance program, 55% of a worker’s pay is available for up to six weeks for family health needs.
“The birth of a child should be a joyous event for new mothers and fathers, not the cause of financial hardship or devastation,” said National Partnership President Debra L. Ness. “Sadly, tens of millions of working parents throughout the country have no access to paid leave when a child is born and few if any other workplace protections beyond the minimum standards set by federal law.”
U.S. workers deserve better! State and federal representatives need to hear from parents. Only a groundswell of support from voters will ever precipitate the changes needed to propel the U.S. into a more family friendly place.