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California earns an A-; 17 states get an F
It’s pretty sweet to be a working parent in California,
which a decade ago adopted the nation’s first paid family leave law. It might
not be so great to have kids and a job in Oklahoma, which hasn’t a single
benefit or program to support families before and after the birth, adoption or
foster placement of a child.
When it comes to working-parent supports such as paid
family and medical leave, paid sick days, and pregnancy accommodations, no
state in the union is doing quite enough, according to a June 2014 analysis of
state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new
parents in the United States.
On one end of the spectrum is the Golden State, which
earned a grade of A- from the National Partnership for Women & Families in
its study Expecting
Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents. On the other end are states like Utah and
Wyoming, which were among 17 states that earned an F.
“The ability of working people in this country, including
new and expecting parents, to manage their responsibilities at home and on the
job should not depend on where they live,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the
National Partnership, which promotes policies that help parents meet the dual
demands of work and family. “Lawmakers at all levels should take a close look
at this study and the evidence that shows the benefits of providing leave and
other workplace protections, and then move quickly to establish the standards
people urgently need and deserve.”
The National Partnership reviewed public policies aimed
at helping new parents in each state and the District of Columbia. It looked at
selected laws that expand upon federal leave and workplace protection for private-sector
and public-sector state employees, and graded all 50 states and the District of
While its laws that help new parents brought California
the closest, not a single state earned a grade of A. Connecticut, Hawaii, New
Jersey and the District of Columbia received a B+ for advances in providing
workers access to paid sick days, paid medical leave for pregnancy and paid
family leave. Illinois, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington received a B for
efforts to protect working parents through expansions of the federal Family and
Medical Leave Act and for other family-friendly policies.
The 17 states that received a grade of F failed to
provide a single benefit or program to help support families before and after
the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.
Most states fall somewhere in between, which indicates
that they’re doing something to expand upon minimal federal protections, but
not enough, according to the study’s authors.
“Despite all of this progress in policy and attention,
there is much more work to be done,” the authors wrote. “Too many working people
are one ill family member or one new baby away from financial insecurity, and
the United States remains an outlier among nations by not providing basic paid
family and medical leave policies.”
The United States has three national laws that address pregnancy
discrimination, unpaid family and medical leave, and nursing mothers’ rights at
work, thereby helping some new and expecting parents.
Although paid leave for new mothers is guaranteed in 181
other nations, and 81 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers, the United
States is one of few countries that don’t guarantee workers access to paid
leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides new parents up
to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but just under 60 percent of the workforce is
eligible for its protections and many cannot afford to take unpaid time off.
The U.S. also lacks a national policy guaranteeing paid
sick days, pregnancy accommodations and other support to expecting and new
parents. Less than 40 percent of workers have access to employer-provided
short-term disability insurance, which provides some income during a woman’s
pregnancy-related disability leave. And only about one-tenth of the U.S. workforce
has access to employer-provided paid family leave to care for a new child. Workers
in low-paying jobs are far less likely to have access to these employer-provided
After returning to work, some nursing mothers have legal
protections that help them continue to provide breast milk to their children,
but others must rely on their employers’ good will to be able to pump at work.
“Too often, expecting mothers who need but are not
provided reasonable accommodations at work are forced to take unpaid leave,
quit or jeopardize the health of their pregnancies,” the study’s authors wrote.
“Working parents without paid leave—or even job-protected unpaid leave—face a
range of difficult choices, none of which are acceptable. New parents are
frequently forced to return to work before they, their spouses or partners, or
their children are ready. Many must take unpaid leave that stretches their
families’ financial resources and puts their jobs at risk. Others must resign
from work altogether.
“None of these options serves working families or the
nation well,” the authors continued. “They hurt the national economy and local
businesses by depressing consumer spending, and they erode the nation’s
competitiveness and cause significant and often longstanding hardship for
families and communities.”
for the Future
The National Partnership and other organizations are
calling on Congress to pass three pieces of legislation: the Family
and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a national
paid family and medical leave insurance program; the Healthy
Families Act, which would set a national paid sick days standard; and the Pregnant
Workers Fairness Act, which would help guard against pregnancy
President Barack Obama has called for family-friendly
workplace policies, and for several years his budget has included money to support
states that create their own paid leave programs.
In June 2014, the White House hosted a Summit on Working
Families in Washington, D.C., to showcase policies that would help working
parents and families.
Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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