People across the country experience the challenges that come from our nation’s outdated workplace policies. But the strain between responsibilities at home and on the job is especially acute when a baby is born or a new child arrives. For women, who often are both breadwinners and primary caregivers for their families, the impossible choice between a family’s health and its financial well-being is all too common – and the consequences can be devastating.
That’s why the National Partnership for Women & Families has been working for more than 40 years to advance public policies that promote equality in the workplace for women, parents and all workers. We have fought for every major policy advance that has helped women and families, and we continue to lead efforts to build the fair and family friendly America working families need.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – the only federal law that helps workers manage the dual demands of job and family – was one of those historic advances. The FMLA guarantees workers unpaid, job-protected time off to care for a new child or ill family member, or to recover from a serious medical condition, including pregnancy or childbirth. We led the fight for its passage 20 years ago, and it has been used more than 100 million times since then.
But the FMLA was always meant to be a first step toward an America where no parent has to choose between caring for a sick child and putting food on the table. Sadly, Congress has failed to take another step, workplace inequality persists, and our public policies are now badly out of step with the needs of working families.
Women are still paid less than men, denied promotions and other advancement opportunities, and too often refused reasonable accommodations that would allow them to continue working when they become pregnant. This costs women and their families much-needed income and financial stability.
Fortunately, there are proposals before Congress that would help combat some of this harmful discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help eliminate discriminatory pay practices, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace. They are both badly needed proposals.
Women and their families also struggle without access to basic family friendly policies, like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. More than 40 million workers in the United States cannot earn a single paid sick day, and a mere 11 percent of private sector workers have paid family leave through their employers. As a result, too many people have to choose between job and family when they become parents or illness strikes.
Congress can and should advance critical measures that would help. The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn paid sick days to use to recover from illness or care for a sick child, and the forthcoming Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would establish a national paid leave insurance program that would enable workers to take paid time off to address serious illnesses or to care for new babies. America’s families urgently need these common sense proposals.
The good news is that there is a strong, broad-based coalition of advocates, workers and lawmakers who are committed to making progress on these important issues. And you can help. Go to www.NationalPartnership.org/Action to get involved and send a message to your members of Congress today. Together, we can move the country toward fairer, more family friendly workplaces for all.
Debra L. Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which drafted and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 20 years ago. The organization promotes fairness in the workplace, access to quality affordable health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. For more than three decades, Ness has been a strong advocate for fairness and social justice, with deep knowledge about the issues facing women and families at home, in the workplace, and in the health care arena.