After reading the title of this post, some might be thinking: I see how access to paid family and medical leave is important for working families, but is it really a human right? The answer: absolutely, yes! Human rights are rights inherent to all; they are “interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible .” Or, as defined by the American philosopher Alan Gewirth: human rights are “a claim by someone, on someone, for something essential to human dignity.” Paid family leave is a human right that is essential for healthy and thriving working families.
All employees deserve the ability to care for an ill family member, bond with a new baby, or recover from their own serious illness without the burden of lost income. Access to paid family and medical leave is a necessity for all employees striving to reach a balance between work, family, and their own well being and directly interconnects economic and social rights. The right to health, right to an adequate standard of living, right to development, and rights of equal protection, nondiscrimination, and equality of opportunity are all directly bolstered by paid leave policies.
This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the implementation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (1993). At the time, the FMLA marked a groundbreaking and significant step in national policy by providing job protection for covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period. However, the anniversary of the FMLA also marks 23 years of very little additional progress. Since its passage over two decades ago, the FMLA has been used more than 200 million times to help workers take necessary time off, but it is not enough: unpaid leave does not match the demands of the modern workforce and does not allow for full realization of basic human rights.
Our country’s lack of a paid family and medical leave policy proves a major obstacle to the well being of millions of working caregivers and families; a fact which has been recognized even on a global scale. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have a national paid maternity leave policy, and 70 nations even guarantee paid paternity leave . The international organization Human Rights Watch has even issued a report “Failing Its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the U.S.,” specifically detailing how the U.S. is falling behind and needs to step up for human rights. The report notes how the lack of paid leave is a detriment to US productivity, progress, and societal health. Connecticut can be a leading state in solving this problem.
Connecticut has historically led the nation in supporting working families. In fact, Connecticut passed its own FMLA in 1990—three years before the federal legislation—and was the first state in the nation to pass paid sick days legislation in 2011. However, our current state policies still are not enough to fully protect the rights of all working families: Connecticut scored a B+ in the National Partnership for Women and Families’ latest “Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help Expecting and New Parents” report. That’s okay, but we can do better!
It is time to recognize paid family leave as not only as a political, economic, and social issue, but a human rights issue as well. Working families of Connecticut have a right to workplace supports that will help them thrive as people, as professionals, and as parents. Twenty-three years after the FMLA began the push for progress, the time has come to pass paid family leave. #PaidFamilyLeaveforCT.
Erin Dunn is a Policy Intern with the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, entering her junior year at the University of Connecticut.
Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx
Human Rights in the United States: Beyond Exceptionalism. Hertel, Shareen and Libal, Kathryn. Page 10 (2011).
Human Rights Watch, “Failing its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the U.S.” 2015. Page 4. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0315_brochure_web.pdf