Commentary

Op-eds: Father’s Day week reminds us of the need for paid leave laws

In case you missed them, a pair of recent “must read” op-eds highlighting the growing national movement for paid leave laws deserve your attention. In  “What fathers really need for Father’s Day” by Kevin Rogers of Action NC for WRAL.com, Rogers explains the challenge he and his wife endured when their young became seriously ill with meningitis:

The entire process was absolutely exhausting, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And had either my wife or I worked for almost any other employers, it would have been financially exhausting as well. Not only for the actual medical care, but for the weeks of time we were at the hospital and away from our work. But because we both had paid leave, we were able to concentrate on caring for our son, not on worried about keeping our jobs. You know, the way it should be.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of working people in the United States do not have paid family leave through their jobs. In North Carolina, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 64 percent of working people. This means North Carolinians face impossible choices when new children are born or adopted and when serious personal or family health needs inevitably arise.

And that’s an important detail – the bit about adoption. Because while my son is now my son, he was legally a foster child at the time this all happened. If my wife and I were relying on federal law to protect our jobs when we were staying at the hospital, we would be completely unprotected. And that would just be the hospitalization – we still took off time from work for the follow-up appointments….

When I think about all the ways this country makes having children difficult, from the insane price of hospital birth, to the withering cost of quality childcare, to the highly inequitable distribution of public education funding, it is perhaps this more mundane challenge – simply having the time and resources to care for a sick child or family member – that is the most maddening.

None of us are immune from the need, but we only penalize those who can least afford it. If my wife and I had been working hourly, minimum wage jobs, there is a good chance my son’s illness would have broken our family. That reality is simply not acceptable.

And this is from “Do You Know a #Dadvocate?” in which Stephanie Carson of Women Advance celebrates her own husband’s parenting and the absurdity of America’s lack of leave laws for parents:

Did you know about the Caregiver Relief Act (HB 269/SB 337)? It’s a bill in the North Carolina State Assembly that would expand the types of family relationships covered to include care of siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, step parents and in-laws. That’s right: as of now, if someone in your family who is not a child, spouse or parent gets seriously sick and you need to take time off to care for them, your employer can deny the request, and your job is not protected. NC is also home to more than 100,000 grandparents who are primary caregivers for their grandchildren, and many of them are still in the workforce. They need access to FMLA when serious medical situations arise, so that they can be there for their grandkids and not lose their jobs.

At the federal level, there is the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act . It would provide up to 12 weeks of leave with partial income (up to 2/3 of regular monthly wages) when employees take time off for family and medical situations including pregnancy/adoption/foster placement, or a serious health condition that impacts a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner. The leave would be available to both moms and dads, which is critical because maternity leave-only policies steer companies away from hiring or promoting qualified women who might have children during their time with the company, deepening the gender pay gap and contributing to overall gender inequality.

Working dads need access to these policies just like the rest of us. If we’re going to create the world we want to live in, where gender inequality is a thing of the past and working people are supported to make the best choices for ourselves and our families, we need policies that allow men to be just as involved as women in family caregiving.

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