Paid Family Leave

We sat in a circle, each remembering a family predicament that needed time and financial resources. A baby born months early, a surgery that required weeks for healing, a dying parent. Each was an event that deeply affected the lives of our families.

We’d discussed this after seeing the movie ‘Zero Weeks’ . This documentary film describes the need for and lack of Paid Family Leave (thus Zero Weeks.) Families have to choose between going broke/losing a job or having the time to be with the family.

Most other countries have Paid Family Leave. In fact, the United States is the only high-income country (as defined by the World Bank) that does not. That means employees/families in the United States use their sick days and vacation time. There are no provisions for extended time to give care.

We do have the FMLA, Family Medical Leave Act. To clarify, this is unpaid time for twelve weeks. An employee can not be fired for taking that time off. However, unless you have savings, how do you afford this? In addition, this is not available for employees who work less than 20 hours and/or in a company with less than 50 employees. As a result, the current FMLCA does not work for the majority of families in the U.S.

According to a survey published National, most people said they would be negatively impacted by having to take time off to care for a family member. And in fact, eighty-four percent of American voters support paid family leave.

What is the opposition? Is Paid Family Leave bad for business? As it turns out, Paid Family Leave is good for business. Having that support helps an employee manage stress and is better for their health. This improves productivity and strengthens employee loyalty. Rehiring and retraining experienced employees is expensive and time consuming, so this is important.

Is Paid Family and Medical Leave too complicated to organize? Currently there is no federal plan. However, as of December 2019, eight states: California, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey and Washington, D.C have a form of Paid Family Leave. (Some of these laws have not been enacted yet. For example, the Massachusetts Paid Family Leave Act begins in January of 2021.)  Each state has a variation of a plan. The guidelines (for example, how long paid leave is for, who qualifies for leave, how much to contribute…) are specific to each state.

There is not one consistent form for paid leave… yet. These are models other states, or the whole nation, can develop. Some plans have a fund that employers and employees contribute to for the paid time.

Another proposal is to establish an insurance program on the state level. This is the bill pending in the Maine legislature: LD 1410. Everyone pays into this and the benefits are distributed by the state, much like unemployment benefits. It would provide for up to 12 weeks for maternity/paternity leave or caring for a family member and up to 20 weeks to recover from a personal illness or injury.

Considering every one of us will have some event: an ailment, injury, birth… that makes sense. There have been proposals for families to be allowed to withdraw from their Social Security to pay for Family Leave. Then what happens when those employees are seniors, drawing on less funds for retirement? We’ll have a similar problem again. This is especially concerning for women who are more likely to earn less, have less for retirement and live longer than their male colleagues.

Would Paid Family Leave be good for your work, your business, your family? Let your representatives know your experience, tell them how this has, or has not, impacted your life. Let the presidential candidates know.

All of Life’s transitions take time. When your family needs you to be present, it’s important to be with them. This positively influences your health, your family, your time at work, your community. That is purpose of Paid Family Leave.


The ‘Zero Weeks’ film showing was sponsored by the Maine Women’s Lobby  and the Maine State Breastfeeding Coalition.