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Workers Need Paid Family and Medical Leave

July 3, 2018

Envision yourself as a home health aide, working full time but still struggling to make ends meet. One day, you get a call that your mother has fallen and needs surgery. Once she returns home, she will need your help for a few weeks until she regains her strength and independence.

But there’s a problem: you don’t have access to paid leave, so you can’t afford to take any time off work.

Unlike other economically developed countries, the US does not guarantee its workforce paid family and medical leave, which would enable workers to take time off to care for their own health or for the health of a family member–or to bond with a new child.

Moreover, only about 60 percent of US workers qualify for unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Many direct care workers, along with other low-income workers, are excluded from FMLA protection because they work part-time or inconsistent hours, for smaller employers, and/or for more than one employer.

But there is growing momentum at the state level to fill this void. Five states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family and medical leave laws, half within the past two years.

In our recent publication, PHI described why these state protections are important to direct care workers, and encouraged other states to enact paid family and medical leave laws. We also offered the following recommendations for states:

  1. Ensure that workers’ jobs will be protected when they take paid leave—this is especially important for direct care workers, who may risk losing their jobs if they take time off.
  2. Ensure that wage replacement levels are adequate for low-income workers, including direct care workers—otherwise, they may not be able to afford to take leave.
  3. Create paid family and medical leave laws that account for the realities of direct care jobs, including inconsistent or part-time hours and multiple employers.
  4. Through targeted communications, educate workers and employers on family and medical leave laws—it is essential that everyone knows their rights and responsibilities.
  5. To ensure that the needs of low-income workers are met, collect data to evaluate the impact and utilization of paid family and medical leave laws.

Legislators and advocates are championing paid family and medical leave at the federal level through two bills – the FAMILY Act and the Workflex in the 21st Century Act – and one proposal. As momentum grows around this issue , PHI is committed to ensuring that all workers, including direct care workers, can take time off to care for themselves or a loved one without compromising their economic security.

Paid Family and Medical Leave: How States Should Support Direct Care Workers was released as part of PHI’s #60CaregiverIssues campaign.

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