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DOL recognizes that nuclear families are exception, not rule

Long gone are the days when families in the U.S. typically consisted of a Mom, Dad, and a couple of kids.

These days, grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-parents, and domestic partners are often serving the role of “parent”.

Unfortunately, government policies have been slow to keep up with these shifts in the American family and caregiving roles, despite overwhelming support for policy change.

But slowly, change is a-coming. Just yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor issued new interpretation of what a parent means in the context of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). DOL’s new interpretation means that those serving “in loco parentis”–including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and domestic partners–can access the job-protected leave provided by FMLA to care for a sick family member.

As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis so eloquently put it:

“No one who loves and nurtures a child day-in and day-out should be unable to care for that child when he or she falls ill. No one who steps in to parent a child when that child’s biological parents are absent or incapacitated should be denied leave by an employer because he or she is not the legal guardian. No one who intends to raise a child should be denied the opportunity to be present when that child is born simply because the state or an employer fails to recognize his or her relationship with the biological parent. These are just a few of many possible scenarios. The Labor Department’s action today sends a clear message to workers and employers alike: All families, including LGBT families, are protected by the FMLA.”

Particularly as families are struggling to juggle caregiving needs with the demands of their jobs in this recession, this is a positive step by the Obama Adminstration.

However, it is a step and just that. What families really need is a range of family-friendly workplace policies to aid them in balancing work and family, including paid sick days, paid family and medical leave and workplace flexibility.

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