By Maddie Granato
October marks National Work and Family Month, thirty-one days dedicated to encouraging employers across the country to pause and consider how their organizational practices, programs and policies support employees in their efforts to achieve professional and personal success. In addition to raising the minimum wage, strengthening workers’ right to organize, providing fair scheduling practices and supporting protections guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, one issue remains at the forefront of truly providing a “family-friendly” workplace environment: paid family and medical leave.
In Connecticut and across the nation, countless workers everyday are forced to choose between work, family and in some cases, their own physical health. While the federal FMLA has successfully provided job-protected time off to millions of workers since its enactment in 1993, studies show that just 13% of workers have access to paid leave through their employers and less than 40% have access to employer-provided personal medical leave, data that varies widely by industry, wage and skill level. Without ready access to paid leave, too many families crumble under the financial burdens of situations that are life-altering even without economic concerns, from welcoming a new baby to caring for an ill loved one to tending to one’s own serious health condition.
At this point, the reasons for paid leave seem endless. Among businesses that offer the benefit, paid family and medical leave has been shown to increase employee loyalty and reduce turnover, resulting in a cost-saving for businesses. In turn, it also allows employees the flexibility to devote more time to family demands, which boosts efficiency, productivity and engagement while on the job. Leading tech companies including Netflix, Google, Microsoft and Adobe have already recognized these benefits and have paved the way to encourage an increasing number of businesses across the country to begin to offer some form of paid leave. Here in Connecticut, we came so close last session to passing the first comprehensive paid family and medical leave bill ever introduced to the state legislature.
Discussions surrounding paid leave and other issues in the spotlight this month don’t so much revolve around a lack of supporting evidence of the need for change and are instead rooted in what we, as a nation, prioritize politically. As the 2016 election cycle approaches, it’s no surprise that candidates of all party affiliations are preaching “family values” as the core of their domestic policy agendas. But what does that mean? Twenty two years after the federal FMLA provided a starting point for leave-related discussions, it’s failed to adapt to changing workforce dynamics, increased costs of living and the growing number of families that don’t necessarily fit within what’s considered traditional. If workplace policies truly reflect and support family values, why is the Campaign for Paid Family Leave’s story bank flooded with testimony from women and men across the state, all reiterating variations of the same struggle?
Paid family leave is not a partisan issue, it’s a family issue. Think that’s a stretch? Just look at last week’s news cycle. In laying down his conditions for accepting a nomination to become Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan demanded his caucus respect his wishes to spend less time on the road fundraising and more time at home with his three young children. Earlier in the week, Vice President Joe Biden announced he is forgoing a presidential run, partly because he and his family are recovering from the recent loss of his son Beau. Though the two stand on opposite sides of the political aisle, their comments unleashed a dialogue that’s hard to ignore – the need for paid family leave and medical leave to accommodate working caregivers of all demographics, even those in positions of power.
Though October marks the official National Work and Family Month, its conclusion this weekend shouldn’t prevent advocates and employers alike from continuing to push for fairer policies that support employees master the balancing act of work and family. There’s no better way to celebrate the month than to advocate for paid family leave here in Connecticut. Want to get involved? Click here.