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Shared Family Leave

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Sabrina Sun, Entertainment Editor

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A 2012 survey of America’s current family leave policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)-which guarantees employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with job-restoration- admits that around 40 percent of all American workers are not covered. Even worse, a 2014 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reveals that 42.6 percent of the demographic that would benefit the most from family leave, women at childbearing ages from 18-44,  are unqualified. These statistics reveal that even FMLA’s  “universal unpaid leave” is not truly universal. America’s current family leave policy is severely lacking, but mandating both paid paternity and maternity leave is not the answer; the projected economic impact and current ideological climate of America suggests that this is not possible. Mandating companies to provide shared-leave is more achievable, takes modern developments in the workplace into account, and will accomplish more for gender equality.   

Examining current paid leave policies within the U.S. reveals how sustainable statutory family leave truly is. Currently, only six areas in the U.S. offer some form of paid leave: California, Rhode Island, Washington, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia. California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program, which was passed in 2002, compensates employees with 55 percent of their usual salary for up to six weeks, which can be combined with the 12 weeks of job-protection FMLA provides. PFL is funded by employee tax contributions and thus has no direct cost on employers. In addition, a 2009-10 survey by CEPR revealed that 89 percent of the surveyed employers reported negligible or positive effects on profit and performance, and 60 percent saved costs by coordinating PFL with their personal leave policies. The positive response of paid leave’s most outspoken critics –employers– proves that it is possible to provide paid family leave without excessively impacting businesses.

Shared family leave would also account for socio-economic shifts that have led to an increase in workers of both genders who would benefit from paid family leave – something FMLA also fails to do. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), families where both the husband and wife were employed made up 48 percent of all married-couple families in 2016. The same report stated that 64.2 percent of mothers with children under six years old participated in the workforce. On the other hand, a visual report by the BLS shows that in the mid 1990s, when FMLA was drafted, only 42 percent of married-couple families had both spouses employed and only 60.3 percent of mothers with children less than six years old were in the workforce. While the Final Rule amendment of 2015 expanded FMLA to cover nontraditional couples and guardians, it only extended unpaid leave. Even in its most recently modified form, FMLA continues to fail in addressing the changing nature of the American workplace. On the other hand, shared-leave would acknowledge the increase in working mothers and remain inclusive to working parents in general.

The studies of countries that do provide forms of paid family leave reveal that implementing shared-leave will do far more for gender equality than America’s current policy. FMLA’s official statement declares that its goal is to allow employees to remain employed while dealing with any serious family and medical issues that may arise, all while “promoting equal employment opportunity for men and women.”  While some would argue that simply adopting paid maternity leave would be enough, evidence shows that when paternity leave was offered, both the child and society overall benefitted, demonstrating that America should not neglect fathers from their family leave policy. A study analyzing the impact of paternal involvement in raising a child by OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) states that “Fathers who took long periods of leave (of two or more weeks) were likely to engage more regularly in childcare activities than their peers who did not take time off at the time of birth” which would in turn “reduce the persisting gender gaps in paid and unpaid work but may also enhance child development and wellbeing.” In addition, the policies of countries that do offer paid shared family leave prioritize gender equality. Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), an impartial government service organization in the UK that mediates employer-employee relations, states “The important thing is that within a Shared Parental Leave scheme, men and women are treated equally and paid at the same rate in the same circumstances.” If the U.S. truly acknowledges the importance of gender equality in family and health leave policies, analyses of other countries’ leave policies show that a shared-leave policy is the most effective way to champion the principle.

While it is true that America’s current leave policy is unsatisfactory, implementing only paid maternity leave or separate paternity and maternity policies is not the best approach. The positive impact of existing paid leave policies in America, shared-leave’s open stance towards the socio-economic changes in the workforce, and shared-leave advancement of gender equality make a shared family plan the most appealing and achievable form of paid leave available.  

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Shared Family Leave