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Women and Children First? Who Should Get Paid Sick Leave

Women and Children First? Who Should Get Paid Sick Leave

Should mothers get paid leave from work because they choose to have a baby? What about fathers?

The Glass Hammer raises these questions in “The Case for Paid Parental Leave,” but by limiting the question to parents, it weakens its argument.

New parents aren’t entitled to any paid leave at all under American law. About 60% of American workers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, but that guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave. It says nothing about paid leave. The other 40% of employees are at the mercy of their employers or of state and local laws when they need time off.

People who need leave for medical reasons are in exactly the same boat. Whether ill themselves or caring for a sick relative, only 60% of employees have the right to some unpaid leave under federal law, and there is no federal right to paid leave.

This is a broken system — actually, it is barely a system at all. A substantial number of working Americans may not be able to take a single day off if they have or adopt a baby, become ill, or have to care for a sick family member. If they have no choice but to take a day off they are at risk of losing their jobs. Many people cannot afford that risk: in my work as an advocate for homeless people, I encountered families who lost their housing and wound up on the street because they had to miss work for parental or medical reasons and were fired.

The only humane question is not whether paid leave should be mandatory; it is who should have the right to use it. The Glass Hammer argues for leave for mothers and fathers, but workers with medical problems need it too.

Though it would be a step forward, it would be unfair and short-sighted to grant paid leave to new mothers and no one else. As senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research John Schmitt notes, offering mothers more or better leave than fathers “completely reinforces the cultural expectation that women take care of children and men continue to work.” (Schmitt and his colleagues at CEPR studied parental leave worldwide and concluded that the U.S. is at the bottom of the barrel of economically comparable countries.)

Even worse than reinforcing the expectation that caring for children is women’s responsibility, granting paid leave to mothers and not fathers would make that expectation reality. Aside from families with the resources for a father to take unpaid leave, parents would have no choice but for the father to continue working at his job while the mother took time off to care for the new child. Allowing only mothers to take paid leave would be institutionalized discrimination. And denying paid leave to the sick and their caretakers is simply cruel.

Related Stories:

How the Zero Weeks of Paid Maternity Leave in the U.S. Compare Globally

The Scary Reality of Being Fired for Taking A Sick Day

Universal Paid Sick Leave Would Save NYC Millions

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42 comments

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9:37AM PDT on Oct 5, 2012

it's very case by case.. so very difficult to regulate

8:25PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

I was one who had to take an unpaid Medical leave from my job years ago. It was rough going, but thankfully my family helped me out finacially. I was one of the lucky ones.

8:13PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

We are far behind Europe in all aspects of health care. All people need paid sick time occasionally. Pregnancy and birth certainly qualify, but I was in a situation when my mother got Alzheimers and I had many decisions to make to move her to a home that could care for her -- several times I had to call into work, that I had an emergency where she was taken to the E.R., or when I was moving her -- people have EMERGENCIES and need to take care of family. All of my younger nurse friends had instances when they had a sick child and had to miss work -- we all sucked it up and came to work when we ourselves were sick, so as to save the "sick time" for the children's illnesses. The U.S. needs to reexamine what's important in its citizens' lives.

2:21AM PDT on Aug 15, 2012

I agree that if you plan to have a child, you should plan for expenses, including taking time off from work if necessary. My husband and I agreed that I would take a break in my career to be a stay-at-home mom, because we felt that was best for our children, and we planned and budgeted accordingly.

HOWEVER, how about the unplanned child? - the child of rape, the child conceived when birth control failed, the child conceived because you couldn't afford birth control or the only pharmacy in town refused to fill the prescription? We cannot plan for every eventuality in our lives. And in all three of these situations, the mother or the parents may be so close to the edge, financially, that they cannot afford to take time off.

And if we acknowledge that the unplanned child warrants paid leave, why should the planned child not? Its parents are helping pay for the other.

I'm not arguing that this is feasible--Past Member's point about the cost to small businesses is a valid one, at least if implemented immediately. Just saying that it would benefit society, by improving the medical and financial health of families. A healthy child is more likely to grow up into a productive adult.

10:54AM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

In the USA this should be a shame because we are supposed to be the land of oppertunity and where anyone could make something of themselves. I think we had more of that in the Old West as to now.

12:35AM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

I did not get a paid leave. You have a baby you have to plan ahead for your own time off. Yes it'd be nice but don't think work should be forced to pay. Take vacation pay, make due like every one else.

3:02PM PDT on Aug 4, 2012

They should get sum time of !

10:34PM PDT on Aug 3, 2012

If someone decides to have a child or go on a trip, the employer should not have to pay that person anything because they are not at work. It is not right for the employer to have to pay money to employees when they want time off for something they want to do. Fair is only fair.

8:44PM PDT on Aug 3, 2012

Answer right here=Schmitt and his colleagues at CEPR studied parental leave worldwide and concluded that the U.S. is at the bottom of the barrel of economically comparable countries.

8:39PM PDT on Aug 3, 2012

I guess Steve R. and Julie B. are the only ones who are allowed to have children. What a country we would have if they keep dropping their little brats! Everyone would pay for the paid leaves, through taxes and employee benefits, just like everything else that everyone uses. Only when we're talking about the United States helping children and families, instead of dropping bombs on them, do conservative nut jobs like Steve and Julie wonder where the money is coming from. And I really thought Steve would love this, considering he is against all forms of birth control and want people to pop out kids nobody wants. Both of you fools should join a site called "Don'tCare2" and use it to disrespect other conservative automatons.

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