Many countries around the world offer some form of paid family leave to new mothers and fathers, with the United States being a notable exception. In the United States, parents who are unable to work for family reasons such as pregnancy, bonding with a newborn or adopting a child, are only legally required to be offered up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons in a 12-month period under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Because of this, over 80 percent of parents who take time off under FMLA often must do so at the expense of their income—leaving new families financially vulnerable during a critical time in their lives.
Much more nuanced than it may initially appear, the issue of paid family leave has gone back and forth on party lines for years. While the Democratic and Republican parties have expressed support for paid family leave, neither party can agree on the details—such as what is covered, and how best to pay for it.
To date, only five states (as well as Washington, D.C.) guarantee the right of paid family leave to new parents. Because this is presently such a controversial issue in our country, we have briefly highlighted the main points of contention with the hope that someday, paid family leave can be a right guaranteed to new parents and familial caregivers alike.
Reasons for Paid Family Leave
There are a number of reasons why proponents of paid family leave advocate for the universal right to spend time with their new children immediately following birth and/or adoption, or with sick family members in need of care. These include, but are not limited to:
- Workers with less education and/or lower wages tend to have the least amount of access to paid leave, compared to their college-educated colleagues;
- Working mothers and fathers with few/no options for paid leave may have to return to work immediately following childbirth to avoid losing their jobs, or to avoid losing all of part of their income;
- Family-friendly leave policies positively impact work ethic, and a willingness to return to work by those returning from a leave period.
Despite the support for paid family leave across party lines, some lawmakers have taken issue with the effects that the implementation of these policies can have on the workforce, the economy, and the state of smaller businesses who may not be able to afford mandatory paid leave. These concerns include:
- Fears that paid family leave will negatively impact employee turnover, profitability and/or productivity;
- With more Americans supporting paid maternity leave (82 percent) over paid paternity leave (69 percent), a “neutral” paid family leave act could potentially allow some new families to unfairly take advantage of financial assistance at the expense of employers; and
- Disagreement over how much time should be given during paid family leave. A median of 8.6 weeks off for mothers and 4.3 weeks off for fathers during paid family leave has been observed, but no clear length of paid time off has been agreed upon by either side.
Until the details surrounding paid family leave can be worked through, new parents and caregivers alike must continue to utilize the protections guaranteed under the FMLA to take up to 12-weeks of unpaid family leave following the birth or adoption of their child, or the sudden and urgent demand of care by a close family member.
We believe that a person’s right to spend time with their new child or a sick family member is one that should be preserved and expanded upon, and we are dedicated to ensuring that any applicable employer respects these rights in the meantime. If you or a loved one believes that their rights under the FMLA have been violated or have been illegally denied family leave, contact us as soon as possible to discuss how best to take action.