Advocating for Paid Leave for All

Advocating for Paid Leave for All

WHO SHE IS

Vicki Shabo, Vice President, National Partnership for Women & Families

LOCATION

Washington, D.C.

SUCCESS STORY

Helping lead a movement that has gotten family friendly workplace policies like paid family and medical leave and paid sick days on the national agenda

WORK SCHEDULE

Hectic! But usually at least somewhat within my control, which is hugely important

KIDS

One son, age seven

SANITY VICE

Thursday night TV: Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy (thank you, Shonda Rhimes!)

RECENT SMART READ

Does having a seven-year-old read Harry Potter out loud to me count?

BEST TIME-MANAGEMENT TIP

Putting top to-do items on my calendar for the day and turning off email notifications

FAVORITE GO-TO TECHNOLOGY

Shared file apps that prevent email clutter

BETTER WAY TO SAY WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

It’s all about making the puzzle pieces fit each day and each week.

 

1. Tell us about The FAMILY Act, its mission, and how you got here.

I became passionate about paid family and medical leave after I had my son. I was working as an attorney at a law firm at the time and was lucky enough to have very generous parental leave benefits and a very easy return to work. And even that was hard. Doing that a few days or weeks postpartum would be exponentially more difficult. Yet that’s what millions of new parents have to do because they don’t have paid leave, don’t have a right to return to their jobs and have to make sure their new babies have diapers and clothes and their families can eat.

The United States is way behind when it comes to paid leave. The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is a proposal pending in Congress that addresses the urgent need that millions of workers and their families have when a new baby is born, a loved one falls seriously ill or a family breadwinner has a serious health issue. It’s an exciting proposal that has the support of more than 400 organizations across the country, many business owners and a growing number of members of Congress. Winning paid family and medical leave for all is core to the National Partnership for Women & Families’ mission. We wrote the first draft of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and have been working to improve and expand on that success ever since its enactment in 1993.

2. Currently some employees are protected by FMLA while on maternity leave, but not paid unless your employer provides some compensation. Why are some FMLA leaves paid and some are unpaid under “short-term disability,” and why is it often a percentage of pay versus full pay that’s offered? Why does it have to be so confusing?

People are dealing with a patchwork that is confusing and nonsensical. As U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez has been saying lately, people shouldn’t have to win the “boss lottery” to be able to take time to care for a new child.

Here’s the current state of play: If you work for an employer with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, and you’ve worked more than part time and worked there for more than one year, you’ve got job-protected leave for 12 weeks under the federal FMLA.

The FMLA has been used by new moms and dads, sons and daughters, and spouses more than 200 million times over the 22 years of its existence, but it leaves a lot of people out, either because they’re not covered by the law or they can’t afford to take the unpaid leave it provides.

Whether you get paid during some or all of that time is up to your employer. Among employers who do offer some wage replacement, some use short-term disability insurance (on the theory that the time is medical leave for a birth mother to recover from childbirth). Short-term disability insurance often only pays a portion of an employee’s wages, as do some employers’ parental leave policies – probably on the theory that people shouldn’t have incentives to take more leave than they need.

Ultimately, just 13 percent of the workforce has access to paid family leave and less than 40 percent has access to employer-provided temporary disability insurance. Only half of all first-time mothers take any paid leave of any length in connection with the birth of their child.

3. So the FAMILY Act you’re proposing would cover 12 weeks at a portion of someone’s pay? Is this for all employees including hourly or part time employees?

Yes, the FAMILY Act covers employees wherever they live, whoever they work for and regardless of how many hours or jobs they work. It reflects the needs of a changing workforce. People – especially hourly and lower-wage workers – are often juggling more than one job and an increasing share of the workforce is self-employed or working as independent contractors.

4. Your materials say new mothers who take paid leave or more likely to stay in the workforce? Why is this?

It’s hard to say what the motivation is, but there’s likely some combination of need and loyalty at play. Whatever the reason, the evidence is clear: Paid leave contributes to greater labor force attachment for women, a higher likelihood of a woman returning to her pre-birth employer and an increased likelihood of women getting paid higher wages in the year after a child’s birth.

5. You’re a working mom. What are you doing to “work smart” these days?

Ha! That’s a funny question. I try to keep my eye on the most important things that will move our work forward and do my best not to get distracted by things that are less important. But it’s a constant challenge – and one of the exciting things about this moment is that new, urgent opportunities are always popping up. I also try to have a day or two a week where I stay at work a little late so that I can have nights when I don’t take work home with me. On those later nights, I do my best not to turn on my computer when I get home.