186 countries offer paid leave for new mothers. 174 offer paid leave for workers facing personal health problems. 109 offer paid leave for fathers. About half provide paid leave to workers caring for sick family members. But the US doesn’t guarantee any of that.
In fact, America is one of only a handful of countries (and the only industrialized country in the world) that doesn’t offer paid leave at the national level. Some states have made their own rules, but it’s largely left up to employers to set policies for their employees. The upshot? Most Americans don’t have access to paid leave. And those who do may struggle to figure out what they can take — and which paperwork they need to file to actually take it.
The (Many) Benefits of Paid Leave
Imagine having to give up your paycheck while welcoming a new family member, taking care of a sick parent, or seeking medical treatment and you’ll see why most Americans support gov-guaranteed paid leave, regardless of political ideology. Plus, experts say access to paid family and medical leave significantly increases the chances of a worker returning to their job and maintaining the salary they had before taking leave, which can increase their long-term earning potential.
But paid leave can be good for companies, too. Because workers without paid leave access are more likely to leave their jobs. And constantly searching for, hiring, and training replacements costs serious money and hurts productivity.
Expanding paid leave access can help even the playing field for Americans of all demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, too. Research shows it increases labor force participation, especially helping keep women in the workforce. Reminder from Econ 101: Keeping more people working and earning propels the whole country’s economy in a good direction.
The Fight For Paid Leave in the US
The fight for paid leave legislation has been going on for over 100 years. The government has passed — and almost passed — acts providing federal funds to help new parents cover child care in the past, which have now expired. So far, the closest thing we’ve got to a federally mandated paid leave policy is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. FMLA guarantees US workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from a serious medical condition, provide care for a seriously ill family member, or welcome a new child. It also keeps their jobs safe until they’re back. Plus continues employer-sponsored health insurance coverage — so long as the employee continues paying their premium. But the key word here is unpaid leave.
In 2021, President Joe Biden introduced the Build Back Better package, which initially included free universal preschool and paid family leave. The bill passed through the House of Representatives but died in the Senate. There’s been talk of revitalizing parts of it, but there hasn’t been any movement on that yet.
State-Level Paid Leave Protections
Without a nationwide policy, 11 states plus DC have taken matters into their own hands so their citizens can access paid sick and/or family and medical leave. A few of ’em (see: Colorado and Connecticut) also offer paid safe leave, which allows employees to take paid time off if they or a loved one has experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and other abusive situations.
But the rules can be confusing. And rarely guarantee you’ll get your full paycheck while on leave. Most states base your payout on factors like how many hours a week you work, your company’s size and revenue, and how long you’ve worked there. Deep breaths. We broke it down so you could see what you may have access to.
Click on your state below to see whether it’s passed paid sick or family and medical leave laws. And what they say. Psst…if your state’s gray, you have access to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per FMLA. But you’ll have to talk to your employer about the paid kind.
County and city governments are getting in on the fun, too. Since 2015, more than 20 have mandated that companies provide their employees with paid sick leave. Some (hiii, Miami Beach and Minneapolis) have enacted their own paid parental leave laws. Here’s to hoping the momentum spreads.
How to Prep for Paid Leave
Get familiar with your legal rights. Remember: Your state, county, or city could be working toward legislation right now. So keep your eyes peeled if it doesn’t guarantee paid leave yet.
Study your company’s policy. Unfortunately, many companies have outdated, un-inclusive leave policies. The kind that assume parents are different sexes and that women are the primary caregiver. And policies aren’t always communicated clearly, making it hard to know what kind of leave you can take. If this is a thing at your company, reach out to HR and encourage them to update their policies. Then share them wide and clear. Psst…the leave management experts at Sparrow can help your HR team ensure their policy is compliant, file the paperwork, handle payroll changes, and create a better experience for alllll their employees.
Plan how you’ll cover expenses. Hard truth: You might need to take some unpaid time off or live with lower earnings while you’re on leave. Starting a sinking fund, pressing pause on retirement contributions for a few months, or leveraging short-term disability insurance can help your wallet cope. More tips for that here.
Talk to HR about your paid leave plans. We know. This can be an anxiety-inducing convo. But we’ve got your back. In short, don’t give away too much personal info. Keep the focus on getting clarity from HR. And if you end up in a negotiation, only offer terms you’re willing to agree to and put a formal request in writing.
When it comes to nationwide paid leave protections, the US is nowhere near number one. And it’s unclear if that’ll change anytime soon. Even if your state or local gov has paid leave protections in place and your company has a generous policy, you might need some help managing the complex parts of actually taking the time you and your fam need. Sparrow’s tech and human leave specialists can help you (and your employer) handle all that. So you can focus on why you’re going on leave in the first place.
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