When Anderson Cooper’s mother, the designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, reached her 91st birthday, they began a correspondence, breaking a wall of silence between them. This 2016 conversation covered life in the spotlight, suicide, money, and grieving for a parent and a child. Vanderbilt Died in June at age 95.
Most federal workplace laws date back to the 1930s when a majority of mothers did not work outside the home. As family and work patterns have shifted, the need for paid time off to care for family members has increased. In the absence of federal paid leave, a few states have passed laws that allow employees to take paid leave to care for a newborn, adopted child or seriously ill relative. Rhode Island, California and New Jersey allow workers to pay part of their wages into a fund that pays for the leave. Diane and a panel of guests discuss the impact of paid leave on businesses and families.
- Lisa Horn Director of congressional affairs, Society for Human Resource Management.
- Brigid Schulte Reporter, The Washington Post and author of the upcoming book: "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time."
- Ellen Bravo Executive director, Family Values @ Work.
- Kirsten Gillibrand U.S. Senator, New York (D).
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Later this hour, we'll talk to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, about a bill she introduced that would create a national paid family leave program. First, we'll talk to a panel about similar state laws that allow workers to take paid leave to care for a newborn, adopted child or seriously ill relative. Here in this studio, Ellen Bravo, with Family Values @ Work. Brigid Schulte at The Washington Post, and Lisa Horn with The Society for Human Resource Management.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome to all of you. Thanks for being here.
MS. ELLEN BRAVOPleasure. Thank you.
MS. LISA HORNThanks.
MS. BRIGID SCHULTEThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. Brigid Schulte, give us some background on this. How has the idea about paid family sick leave evolved?
SCHULTEWell, really, when you look at what's happened in the workplace, in the work force, back when many of the laws that are still in place were written, say in 1938, with the Fair Labor Standards Act, you have breadwinner fathers, and the majority of families had homemakers at home, taking care of children and house work duties. Fast forward to where we are now, in the 21st century. You've got women making up almost half the work force. You have mothers, now, largely working, many of them full time. Something like close to 80 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are in the work place.
SCHULTEAnd so, while there's been sort of an absence of dialogue on the national level, there's been a lot of movement and discussion at the state level about how the workplace, workplace laws, workplace policies, are really out of touch with the reality that most modern families live.
REHMAnd so what do you see happening in states around the country?
SCHULTEWell, what was really interesting is when they started looking at, say, Family Medical Leave Act, which is really the only family friendly policy, at large, that we have in the United States. And that passed 20 years ago. And states started looking at, well, who is really taking this leave? Who can afford to take it? Because it's unpaid leave. And there was a poll that came out, or some research that was done, in the early 2000s, that found that close to something like three fourths of the people, who needed leave, couldn't take it because they couldn't afford to.
SCHULTEAnd so then you had leaders in the state of California saying, this is really unworkable. If we've got people who are just having children, or adopting, or taking in a foster child and need that time to recover, or bond, or create that sense of family, and they don't have that time, and they can't afford that time, we've got to do something. And so there was first a movement in California to have a paid family leave law. That passed in 2002, and that's all employee paid. They have a disability insurance fund that employees, all employees, pay into, sort of, a few cents on the dollar every paycheck.
SCHULTEAnd it basically expanded the categories that you could take leave for, including child birth. And then, New Jersey followed a few years later, and then Rhode Island is the latest. Their paid leave law went into effect January 1st. Washington State has also passed a law, but they haven't funded it yet.
REHMBrigid Schulte. She's a reporter at The Washington Post. She's author of the upcoming book, "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time." Ellen Bravo, how do you see all this evolving? Do you see states way ahead of the federal government, or do you see the federal government working on this problem?
BRAVOYou know, generally, workplace reforms happen first in the state and local level. That's where there are laboratories of innovation. And then it bubbles up. The public demand is visible, and federal officials realize that they need to act as well. So, I come from Wisconsin. We won Family Medical Leave almost 26 years ago. Five years before it was passed on the federal level.
REHMAnd is that paid family leave?
BRAVONo, it's unpaid.
BRAVOYes, and just what Brigid said is true, that we have lots of people -- there was a survey that was done for the Department of Labor, a year ago, and what they found is that two and a half times as many people as in 2000, the last time they'd done a survey, were eligible for leave, needed leave, didn't take it, mostly cause they couldn't afford it. So, what you have is people going back too soon, not healing. People going without the treatment or a four day maternity leave, a four week maternity leave. And Dads feeling like a spare part, taking just a couple of days, cause the family can't afford the financial hit.
BRAVOSo, yes, there's progress in the states. We hope New York will be the next state that will pass a Family Medical Leave Insurance Program. This year, we hope. And there are a number of other states that are exploring it. Vermont and Connecticut both have task force to study it. The state of Colorado is looking at a bill. There are a number of other places.
REHMAre you happy with a voluntary program that employees themselves pay into?
BRAVOWe think of it as a social insurance fund. So, when you think of it that way, it's a small amount of money. It gets pooled, and then people can afford to take up to -- they'll be able to draw up to two thirds of their salary. They can afford to take the leave. So, I think most people see that as a smart investment of a very small amount of money.
REHMAnd Brigid Schulte, as I said, is with The Washington Post. Ellen Bravo is the Executive Director of Family Values @ Work. That's a national network of advocacy groups, promoting workplace policies like paid sick and family leave. Lisa Horn, as the Director of Congressional Affairs for the Society For Human Resource Management, I gather you do not support this kind of paid family leave.
HORNWell, Diane, that's partially correct, and I know we're in Washington, and this is always a place where people want to be for or against something, but in this respect, I could agree with my colleagues here. I think we share the same goal. The goal is to increase the number of organizations that provide flexible work arrangements, paid leave offerings, all under this umbrella of workplace flexibility. I think where we differ, however, is how we get that leave or that flexibility in the hands of employees. We prefer a voluntary approach.
HORNA voluntary adoption on behalf of employers, because we think that affords them the flexibility that they need to design or tailor and to really innovate, in terms of the offerings for their unique work force. Cause we know no two work sites are alike. We know, sometimes, different divisions within an organization are different. And so, it's all about having flexible flexibility. Whether you're talking about paid leave offerings, or whether you're talking about flexible work arrangements. So, I think we share the goal. We just differ on how we get there.
REHMEllen, how do you see what Lisa is saying, that needs to be tailored to each employer's needs?
BRAVOI think a lot of workers are working in places where the tailor left out the zipper and the buttons and you can't get in and out of the outfit. So, sure, there are a lot of good employers that are already doing these policies, cause they know it's the smart, as well as the right, thing to do. Laws aren't written for them. Laws are written for the ones that won't do it anyway, or haven't done it anyway. And, so let me give you an example, though. The Family Medical Leave Act passed in '93.
BRAVOIn '95, Congress set up a bipartisan commission to study the impact. And I was on that. There were six of us who were chosen, because we -- by Congress, because our organizations had worked to pass it. Six that were chosen cause their organizations had worked to stop it. And we commissioned studies, and employers who are covered, which is -- the majority of employers are not covered under the FMLA, and it's why 40 percent of the work force isn't covered.
BRAVOBut, those who were covered, we asked them how they adjusted their policies. Two thirds of them had to change at least one, and many of them more, policy, in order to comply. And you know what that meant? For many, it meant covering men. It meant recognizing that fathers, sons and husbands also need time to care. It meant covering people who needed it for a sick child. Or a sick parent. Or a spouse. So, mainly, what those companies had done is comply with an earlier law, the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, that says you can't fire someone for being pregnant.
BRAVOAnd you can't refuse to hire her. And if you have temporary disability program, then you gotta treat pregnancy the same as a gall bladder or a heart attack. But it didn't say that you have to let adoptive parents or men, or use it for these other things. There are many reasons why families need care. And that's why we needed the Family Medical Leave Act. So, I thought that was really proof that we needed a law in order to get these changes. If we relied on voluntary action alone, alas, we see the results. We see people in these horrible situations of not being able to get the treatment they need.
REHMBrigid, as a reporter, you've been following these issues for a long time. Is there a way to balance this need for employers to adjust their own workplace situation to the need for employees to get what they need?
SCHULTEI think that's really the question. That's absolutely the question right now, not only at the state level, but at the federal level. It's a very legitimate concern. Businesses have long complained about mandates from the government. We're in tough economic times. People want to make sure that there's plenty of business and economic health. But at the same time, there's the reality of working families.
REHMBrigid Schulte of The Washington Post. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd in this hour we're talking about the prospect for a national paid family leave program. Several states have adapted exactly that. And, Brigid, just before the break, you were talking about the need for employers to be able to adapt their situations, employees being in need of paid family leave.
SCHULTERight. And I think it's important to look -- when you talk to businesses, you have large businesses and, as Ellen said, many of them already are offering paid leave programs for sick leave, for having a child or adopting a child because they know it's a human capital investment. They know that to attract the best talent, they need to get the best people and they want the best people rested and healthy and having full and complete lives outside of work, because it makes you more productive and a better employee.
SCHULTESo it's good for business, it's good for families. Smaller families are, you know, they don't have as many resources, they're…
SCHULTEWell, some are. But interestingly, many are not because they also have paid programs. They're more family-oriented. There's this sense of family. I've talked to a number of small businesses who do have paid programs, who support these paid leave programs because they themselves do it. And I've even spoken to chambers of commerce who, you know, largely have fought these bills on the local level as well as the national level.
SCHULTEAnd say -- when I spoke with the Chamber of Commerce in New Jersey, they said, you know, we understand that we need to support working families. We understand the workplace and the workforce has changed. So what we want is to level the playing field. And now that we have to offer it, we want to make sure that everybody else has to offer it so that, you know, nobody is disadvantaged. So it's changing the conversation.
REHMWhat about that, Lisa, changing the conversation going on?
HORNWe absolutely welcome a change in the conversation about workplace flexibility. You know, we started out the conversation talking about an industrial era statute, the Fair Labor Standards Act enacted in 1938. It was a totally different environment then. We're the 21st century workforce, we're the 21st century workplace. And unfortunately our statutes haven't kept pace with change in the workforce or the workplace.
HORNI appreciated Ellen talking about the number of employers that do provide paid leave, absent federal requirement to do so. In fact, paid leave was the most prevalent employee benefit provided by employers in the private sector throughout the United States in 2012. And that's according to the Department of Labor. So they're providing this type of leave, many of them absent a mandate.
HORNAnd unfortunately, when we look at those one size fits all mandates, what can happen is, you know, there's always winners and losers in policy conversations. And certainly those employees who don't currently have access to leave would be the winners, would get leave under a requirement to do so. But there will be loser. The loser are gonna be those folks who work in those companies that have the very generous leave -- paid paternity, paid maternity packages.
HORNBecause there's going to be no longer an incentive for that employer to continue those offerings and what will likely...
REHMI don't understand that.
HORNWell, they'll likely scale back their current generous leave offerings to comply.
REHMHow can we know that?
HORNWe've seen that. I think one of the greatest analogy right now is with the patient protection in Affordable Care Act. We thought all employees were going to be able to keep their health care packages just the way they had them, their employer-provided health care. And what we've seen lately is employers forced to change their entire staffing model to reduce hours of employees to get them under the 30-hour-a-week threshold so they would not have to provide health care.
HORNAnd instead now that part-time employee or the employee working under 30 hours a week if forced now to get their health care through the exchanges. We've seen lots of retailers do that in preparation for the employer mandate going into the fact next January.
REHMSo, Ellen Bravo, what do you think of that? The analogy with the Affordable Care Act that a federal mandate changes everything and employers react perhaps by cutting back on programs they already have.
BRAVOFirst of all, only 12 percent of the workforce have paid leave, and particularly women, paid maternity leave. So let's not overstate the case. And also, let's remember that having a floor doesn't prevent there being more generous policies. It would be absurd for any employer that is able to offer more generous policies to cut them because of this policy. And here's the good news, we have evidence.
BRAVOThese policies have been existent for several years in California, over 10 years, and also in New Jersey and now they're going to be in Rhode Island. So we have studies. We know what it looks like. Employers not only didn't scale back, it helped them because many small employers in particular, they can't afford to pay you while you're out for six or 12 weeks. This allows them to have the thing they want, which is for you to be a good family member and a good employee, just what we all want, to be able to come back to work and not lose you forever, which is a much more expensive proposition for the employer.
BRAVOSo those who could, top off. They make up the difference between what the employee is able to draw from the fund and what their total wage would be. That's a good thing. There's lots of ways to do that. The employers that are cutting hours now for the ACA, this is not -- they're not being forced to do it, they're choosing to do it. They could easily make a different choice. Those better ones are making a different choice.
REHMAll right, here's a comment posted on our website, which says: "It's about time the law has caught up with the times and not be limited to birth, adoption of a child, but for any qualifying life-changing event. I had major surgery," says this posting, "I was out of work for six weeks. Needed my husband to help me once I returned home from the hospital. He had to use vacation time to help. He shouldn't have to do that."
BRAVOThat's absolutely right. Every single worker in that position. Family Medical Leave Act is unpaid. You get 12 weeks unpaid leave per year, but that only applies to people who work in companies that have at least 50 employees or more and you've been there a year and you work full-time. So there's 40 percent of workers out there who do not have any access to this kind of leave. And the people, again, I think what's really important when we're talking about federal mandates, to understand how the state programs work.
BRAVOThey work much like Social Security. They are employee paid. This is not taxpayer money. This is not a government -- huge government program. It's not like the DMV. Many of these state programs try to make it exactly like Social Security where you have both employers and employees paying into it. But there was so much resistance from the business community that they've each dropped out and now they're completely employee paid.
BRAVOSo these are all benefits that employees pull together. It's an insurance fund, so it's not taxpayers, it's not costing employers anything.
REHMSo, Lisa, doesn't it make sense on that ground?
HORNIn talking about the experience of our members at the Society for Human Resource Management, there are HR professionals and we have roughly 20,000 in the state of California. And speaking with them, their experiences differ, to be completely honest with you. Some, to Brigid and Ellen's point, agree that it has not had that negative impact on their business. Others have a difference in terms of covering for employees who are out on the paid leave.
HORNThere are some costs incurred by the employer in terms of bringing in additional workers, recruiting them, hiring them, training them to fill in. So there's a cost implication when it comes to productivity. There's cost of administering the law. And for some, that's impactful. And for others have had more success navigating it.
REHMThat's a good point. Isn't it that you've got to bring in somebody else to replace a person who's out for 12 weeks?
SCHULTEWell, when I've spoken with employers, you know, in the course of reporting for the Post and also for my book, one of the things that I have heard from people is they don't always bring in people. That is certainly an option. There was one small business I spent time with -- and very, very small, three or four employees -- and the owner was very worried about having an employee go out on paid parental leave.
SCHULTEBut she said, you know what, I didn't have it 20 years ago and I wish I did. And I value that time she's going to be able to have and her husband's going to be able to have with a new child. And so what they did is they worked very intensively and very focused. They said we didn't work more hours, we just worked much more intensively and they got their job done.
BRAVOLet's remember that the person that's being replaced isn't being paid by the employer in most cases. So these additional costs are out of money that they're actually while that person is out. But more important, I think is the -- when we think about the economy overall, people need money in their pockets. Small businesses tell us the thing they most need is sales. They need to make sure that their customers don't lose their job or their income because they have a baby or because they're taking care of a dad who had a stroke.
BRAVOAnd so, it helps -- it boosts the economy when people have that income that they can rely on and it keeps people from going bankrupt. And can we also say, this is a country that says we care about family values. We can't do that if we don't value families that work.
REHMAll right. And joining us now from Capitol Hill is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She is a Democrat representing New York. She introduced legislation in December that would establish a national paid family and medical leave. Thanks for joining us, senator.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRANDThank you, Diane, I'm delighted to be on your show. And I just have been fascinated by your conversation. And I really couldn't agree more with your guest that this is something that is an earned benefit. It's something that an employer and employee invest in together over time, so it's there when the employee needs it. And even in my own office, I've had a woman go on maternity leave now three times.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRANDAnd when she's not here, we all work to make sure her work's covered, but we actually don't replace her. We know she is ready to work the day she comes back, hasn't missed a beat, knows exactly where she left things off. And if progress needs to be made on an initiative she was in charge of, we just make sure other people who have a little extra time can take on that extra issue and work it in her absence.
REHMTell me exactly what the Family Medical Insurance Leave Act would aim to do.
GILLIBRANDBasically, it creates an earned benefit that every employee puts a little bit of money into an account every week about the cost of a cup of coffee, just under $2 for an average employee. The employer does the same. And it's an earned benefit that travels with that employee wherever she or he may go, whether they're working for a big business or a small business, whether they're working full time or part time.
GILLIBRANDIt's a lot like Social Security. It would be managed by Social Security. It would create a dime or a cent to the deficit. It's just an earned benefit that we all buy into. And what it does is the moment you need it, whether you have a mother who's just diagnosed with Alzheimer's or you're having a new baby or a family member who got in a car accident that's in a wheelchair, when you have these family emergencies, that employee can take some paid leave.
GILLIBRANDNow you are eligible under this bill up to 66 percent of your typical monthly wages. And the maximum benefit anybody could get would be $4,000 a month. But the average benefit over a maternity leave would be about $5,500. And that's the difference between being able to pay your mortgage or make your rent payment or make your car payment than not. And so, families can accommodate these exigencies of life and still keep their job and not have to make a horrible choice between being a good parent or being a good daughter or taking care of a loved one and your career.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Senator, how does your proposed bill compare to the paid family leave you have in California and Rhode Island and New Jersey?
GILLIBRANDIt's based on those state models that work. And those state models are the forefront of providing paid leave. Today in America, about 12 percent of employers allow for paid leave. And when we talked to those employers, companies like Ernst & Young or Google, they say it works. And they say it works because they have not only the loyalty of that employee but that employee could be more efficient, more effective and more valuable.
GILLIBRANDThey also don't have to replace the employee if they have to quit. You have to remember that if a woman or a man has a family emergency that is so significant, so great that they can't manage it and their job, they are often forced to quit, to ramp off. And that company will now lose all the benefit, all the investment of time, effort or training that went into that employee. For small businesses, this is something exciting to them because they don't have to build it.
GILLIBRANDThey don't have to create a program. It's going to be administered just like Social Security, straight out of the paycheck and it's something that they can actually for their employees.
REHMAnd how do you respond to those who say it's better to leave it to the individual employer to work out rather than to establish a federal standard that has to be followed?
GILLIBRANDWell, I think it's asking quite a lot of our employers to have to manage such a very difficult thing. If it's an earned benefit like Social Security, it becomes that safety net that families desperately needs. And, Diane, it's so absurd, we are the only nation in -- of all advance nations, in industrialized nations that don't have this. In Europe, they have up to six months paid. Even places like Afghanistan and Pakistan have nine and ten weeks paid.
GILLIBRANDIt's crazy that we are asking our workers to balance work and life emergencies at the same time and not have any support for them. It also undermines our economy because, again, every time that worker or that woman has to ramp off and quit or work less hours or not be eligible for that promotion, it means less money is being earned. It means less retirement benefits are being earned. It means less money is going into the economy.
GILLIBRANDSo this is good for business. It's good for U.S. growth. And we shouldn't be stuck in the "Mad Men" era when it comes to workplace policies.
REHMAnd we only have a short time left. How much support do you have so far? And what's the timeline?
GILLIBRANDWell, we're just building support now. We have a lead sponsor in the House of Representative, Rosa DeLauro, who is so knowledgeable and well respected in the House. So she's going to begin to get co-sponsors. I'm going to begin to get co-sponsors in the Senate. Our goal is to build bipartisan support over the next six months. We would love to have a vote on this by the end of the year. I thought it was exciting the President Obama mentioned this in his State of the Union address.
GILLIBRANDIn fact, he actually said why are we having the same policies that were present in the '50s and '60s when our workforce, the face of our workforce has changed. In my state, 48 percent of our workers are women. And in 5 out of 10 families, they're dual income families. In 3 out of 10 families, it's a single mom bringing home the only paycheck. Why wouldn't we support women in the workplace?
REHMSenator Kirsten Gillibrand. She's a Democrat representing New York. She's been talking about legislation that would establish national paid family and medical leave. Thanks so much for being with us.
REHMAnd we'll take a short break. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd as we talk about paid family and sick leave, here in this country, it's sort of shocking to be confronted by two emails. One from Stockholm, Sweden, the other from Sudbury, Ontario. Jeff in Stockholm says, I'm an American married to a Swede, living in Sweden. Sweden provides working parents with and entitlement of 13 months paid leave per child at 77 percent of the employee's monthly salary. The cost being shared between employer and the government. How does this work? How does Sweden and other Scandinavian countries provide this benefit?
REHMSlightly higher taxes, of course, my income tax rate in Sweden is 38 percent. And then the other one from Sudbury, Ontario. Here in Canada, we have 50 week paid maternity leave, sick leave. Compassionate care leave. All handled under our employment insurance program. We really are in the dark ages, aren't we?
BRAVOI remember when I was pregnant with my first child. This is Ellen Bravo. In the late 70s, I have friend in France who wrote me a letter saying, I feel so sorry for you, that you have to have this baby in the United States. Let's be honest. It would be a lot more convenient if no one got pregnant, no one got sick. No one needed care. But, it's not gonna happen. And so we have to figure out, and we've come up with these common sense ways to help people deal with that, that are good for business and good for the economy, as well as for families.
BRAVOI can't emphasize this enough. It's not a favor to women. It's a better way to do business, to make sure that people don't lose their job, cause they're being a good parent, or because they're following doctors' orders.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones. First to Janet in Miami, Florida. You're on the air.
JANETThank you, ladies, for this conversation. It is so long overdue. I have a four year old, and two 85-year-old parents, and God knows I could use that time. I had to take maternity leave without pay, had to save vacation time. And now I find myself taking vacation time to do things -- or, to take care of health issues with my parents. My parents are from Spain, and God knows I wish I would have had that, or we would be in Spain where I would have that ability to do that. We are so in the dark ages with that, and it's true. We're supposed to be a family oriented country. Really? Is it just a façade, or this is really walk your talk.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. And Lisa, do you agree that we are sort of behind the times here?
HORNIn terms of a federal requirement, we do not have a federal requirement here. So, if that's the definition of behind of times, then you'd have to say yes. But, absent that, absent that, more than 80 percent of employers in this country offer paid leave of some sort to their work force. And they don't do it out of the kindness of their heart. They do it because it's a human capital issue. It's a competitiveness issue. They're after the best and the brightest. They want to be an employer of choice.
REHMYou're saying 80 percent.
HORNMore than 80 percent of employers in this country offer some type of paid leave.
HORNThere's lots of different forms of paid leave. Yes. What we're talking about, you know, I appreciate Senator Gillibrand's passion and enthusiasm for working family issues. As a mother of two young daughters myself, I'm just as passionate. But her legislation is talking about creating a new federal entitlement program, a first dollar tax on payroll wages for employees. While it is minimal, it's not inconsequential. That is, ultimately, money out of an employee's pocket. Unlike the California law, there's also an additional tax on employers under the Family Act, as well.
HORNAnd we have to ask ourselves, we're holding up social security, and certainly we know that social security has some solvency challenges. It faces a 9.6 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. So, I think we have to ask ourselves, is that minimal tax, as outlined in the Family Act now, going to be enough to fund this benefit going forward? Or, a couple of years down the road, are we gonna be looking at higher taxes on employee wages, and higher taxes for employers?
BRAVOIn 1991, I did a study on the five states and Puerto Rico that have temporary disability insurance funds. Two of them, as far back as 1940s. And they all were solvent. They all were thriving, and the administrators of each of those funds said, well, I had never understood why this didn't expand and become a national program. I've never understood why other states didn't do it, cause it keeps people from having to go on public assistance. It keeps people attached to the work force.
REHMBut, what Lisa has said is that 80 percent of employers already provide some leave for their employers.
BRAVOAnd that could mean five days of vacation. Most -- so, half of women, who take maternity leave, have zero income of any kind from work, while they're off. Those who do, mainly, they're using vacation and sick time that they've saved. Those of us who've had children know it's a tremendous joy, but it's not a vacation.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Greg in Indianapolis. You're on the air.
GREGGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
GREGI have worked for years in the public mental health arena, where it is a very labor intensive and paper intensive undertaking. To do an admission takes several hours, and you only get paid for an hour and a half. And, of course, you have to jump through Medicare and Medicaid rules, and a third party rules, and everybody's expectation is such that while the compensation is minimal, my employers require a huge amount of productivity in order for me to earn my keep.
GREGTo the extent that when I have requested leave time of any type, I have been discouraged from taking that. And I will say, more than mildly threatened. How are we, as a people, supposed to get from the current reality, the fact that we are not being encouraged to use our leave time, and try to be healthy and be meaningful participants in our families, et cetera, into the world that is being proposed today? And believe me, I'm wholly supportive of this effort.
REHMAll right. Sir, thanks for calling. Brigid.
SCHULTEHe brings up a really interesting point, that we've got to look not only at laws and policies, but also attitudes and the culture in our work place. There's a new type of law called Family Responsibilities Discrimination Lawsuits, and they have just mushroomed 400 percent in recent years. And what that does is it looks directly at how people -- we may have great policies on the books, but people know it's the kiss of death to take them. We may have great laws, but also, people are discouraged to then -- to follow them, or to take them, because we have these work places that demand full on, full out work all the time.
REHMSo, Lisa, let me ask you, you said 80 percent of employers provide some type of paid leave, or some kind of leave. If you got a woman who's just had a child, and you're in an organization that only provides five days leave, what is that mother to do?
HORNWell, if she works at an employer that's covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, she would eligible for her up to 12 weeks of leave for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.
HORNIt would be unpaid if that employer did not offer some additional benefit that would cover the leave, such as under a short term disability benefit. A crude vacation and sick leave, perhaps, could be used for partial wage replacement during her leave of absence.
REHMDo you think that that's enough?
HORNWell, the good news here, Diane, is that we're starting to see more employers adopting paid maternity and paternity leave. We can't lose sight of new dads here, as well. And we've continually, in our research of our members, are seeing an uptick in the number of employers who offer this. Because, as Brigid, I think, so eloquently put, if we want to get the most out of our employees, we've got to support them, not only when they're in the work force, but in their home life, too.
HORNAnd that's also not just about families. It's about individuals who may never have families, but that have, and want, the freedom to enjoy their life outside of work. Whether that's flexible work arrangement that allow for compressed work weeks. Telecommuting opportunities, or paid leave. It really runs the gamut. And it's not just about focusing on families, but all employees who want to have -- navigate the duel demands of work and life outside of work.
BRAVOLet's remember that number. 20 percent of employers in the United States of America offer not one day off for any reason at all. That's pretty shocking. And, unfortunately, many who do offer, like I said, it's just a few days, and it's vacation. The majority of women work in firms that don't have temporary disability insurance programs. So, that isn't an option for them. We have too many people for whom the leave policy is, if you leave, don't come back. And we gotta do better than that.
BRAVOFamily Values @ Work has a story bank. I urge your listeners to go look at it. And you'll see the real lives of people. What does it mean when you get told, your child's health or your job. This is a country that values families. We have to do that in action, not just in words. This is a common sense floor, a minimum standard. What we're talking about is meager compared to the rest of the world. And I just want to say one thing about Sweden. You know what that policy includes?
BRAVOThat men have to take at least two months of the leave, or the family loses the time. We're seeing a transformation in the role of men, in family life, because of that. And the same thing is true in California. Many more men are taking leave, now that their family won't face bankruptcy, if they do.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Fenwick Island, Delaware. Hi Jenna.
JENNAHi, how are you all doing today?
JENNAGood. Thank you for taking my call. I just had a quick question, a comment that I was wondering if you all would speak to. You know, I can see this quickly becoming a bipartisan issue in our current administration, which would be obviously a shame. Because I think everyone would lose out. A thought that I had while I was listening was, instead of what could be considered another mandate, another tax, another government infiltration of, you know, the family.
JENNAIs there any discussion of what a tax break, or a tax incentive to these businesses who are reluctant to give this important time, what that would look like?
REHMAll right. Lisa?
HORNI think you bring up a really great question. The focus -- we welcome this dialogue on working family issues, and to your point about bipartisanship here, why can't working family issues be bipartisan? Let's start a new dialogue. Let's start a national conversation about what is working in organizations across the country, and look to those businesses that don't currently provide any type of leave or flexibility. What can we do to bring them along in this conversation? How can we encourage them or incentivize them to be this employer of choice?
HORNSo, your caller brings up potential tax credits. That might be an option. But what else could be on the table? Maybe some regulatory relief for companies that are, perhaps, navigating multiple layers of leave laws. For example, in the state of California, got the California Family Rights Act. You got the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. If you're in San Francisco, you also have a San Francisco paid sick leave requirement that can get quite complex for employers to navigate.
HORNSo, perhaps we look at some regulatory relief tax credits, but let's have the conversation.
REHMBut, you do not support Kirsten Gillibrand's approach.
HORNWe have not taken an official position at The Society For Human Resource Management on that legislation. However, it outlines an approach, a mandated, a paid family leave insurance program that we certainly would have some concerns with.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Cheryl, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You're on the air.
CHERYLHi Diane. I want to address the issue of our nation being a Christian nation, our nation claiming that we have family values. And yet, I have a daughter-in-law who had a -- her baby, our grandson was born in Japan. She was given nine months leave of absence. She worked for a family in Japan. And they were living there at the time. It was paid for, I believe, by the government, and then my son was working for Johnson and Johnson in Philadelphia, which is considered a -- you know, they advertise themselves as a family value organization.
CHERYLAnd yet, every woman there was scared to take more than a couple weeks of maternity leave, because they knew it was the end of their career. And you would never get promoted above where they were, because it was a death sentence. And I don't understand the hypocrisy of our nation and this aspect that we don't -- you know, it should be Republicans and Democrats supporting this that we pretend that we're a family value nation, and yet I don't see us getting behind it in action.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Brigid.
SCHULTEWell, I think she brings up a -- the perfect point. And it's one that President Obama made the other night in his State of the Union Address. We are still living, largely, in a Mad Men era. Our laws are from the Mad Men era. Our work place attitudes are also from the Mad Men era. If you look at some, like, general social surveys, we still have a great ambivalence about what we think about mothers working. We're just sort of crazy. Since so many mothers work, and so many mothers have worked for so long.
SCHULTESo, some of what this disconnect is about is that we just haven't shifted enough to really embrace what our true reality is.
BRAVOHere's the good news. The voting public really wants these policies, supports them overwhelmingly across the spectrum of party. Across the spectrum of race, class, gender. These are wildly popular. And more and more politicians, I think, are going to understand, this is good politics as well as good policy.
REHMSo, do you really think that Kirsten Gillibrand's bill is gonna have an easy ride through Congress? Lisa?
HORNIt is not going to have an easy ride through Congress right now, in the current environment. The good news, from my perspective, is that in this environment, while we might not be moving public policy along in this era, we are on the ground in communities and states across the country, trying to educate employers about building that culture of support for flexibility, that culture of support for paid leave, and helping them understand the business benefits of adopting these types of work place flexibility arrangements through our work with the Families and Work Institute and the Win Work Works Initiative.
REHMBut you don't think that's enough, Ellen.
BRAVOWell, unfortunately, Families and Work Institute, which together with (word?), they do terrific work on publicizing effective work places. But Families and Work Institute documented that there was a reduction in leave time, especially for men, or for using it to care for a parent. That's not a good thing. That's not a good trend. And so this is a common sense policy. We'll see growing support for Senator Gillibrand's proposal. Congratulations to her and Representative DeLauro for doing this in the states and on the ground.
BRAVOOur coalitions are working hard, both to win locally and to build support for a federal standard. Thank you so much.
REHMWell, and thanks to all of you for being here. Ellen Bravo, Brigid Schulte, Lisa Horn. We shall see what happens. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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