The following blog post was authored by Marcella Kocolatos, A Better Balance’s Managing Attorney of Direct Legal Services, who runs A Better Balance’s free and confidential legal helpline:
I’m A Better Balance’s Managing Attorney of Direct Legal Services, and I spend each day directly assisting workers through our helpline alongside a team of other attorneys with expertise in employment law and policy. Our helpline plays a critical role in ensuring workers are empowered to exercise their rights in the workplace, putting the policies we’ve fought to pass in action, and supporting the health and economic security of families across the country.
This year alone, we’ve supported almost 2,000 callers from across the country with information about their workplace rights and tailored, individualized support. Providing this resource is invaluable, particularly for low-wage workers who cannot often afford private counsel and frequently face barriers like a lack of transparency from their employers in knowing about the protections they are entitled to. These barriers are often exacerbated by language access issues, and the women who call our Spanish line are more likely to have received inaccurate or misleading information from their employers about how to apply for maternity benefits, for example. We are able to provide them with the correct information and guide them in the application process.
Many workers are able to take the information we provide about their rights and successfully advocate for themselves. Adam, a healthcare worker in Indiana, called us when his wife tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020. He and their son were required to quarantine, but his employer refused to provide him with emergency sick pay. We walked him through discussing the applicable law with HR, and the company then provided Adam with his sick pay and announced that they were changing their policy. Adam shared that he felt “so much more appreciated as a healthcare worker” as a result.
“I would not have had the courage to face this without your guidance and help. Not only did this make things right by me, it also opened the door for many of my coworkers who were also denied [emergency] paid leave… I feel so much more appreciated as a health care worker.” – Adam, Indiana
For other workers, we step in with legal action to enforce their rights on their behalf. Clarissa, a new mom from Missouri who worked at a fast food restaurant, called us because she was being denied breaks to pump breast milk and facing hostile treatment at work. We held her employer accountable to their legal obligation to provide her with the time and space she needed. I’ll never forget the message she sent me that she was “crying tears of happiness” because she could pump again.
“[…] since I couldn’t pump, I got an infection, and my milk supply dropped. I was so worried about feeding my baby. I called A Better Balance’s helpline and they represented me, advocating for me to my employer so that I was able to start pumping again at work. I couldn’t believe it. I cried tears of happiness. The owners also updated the company’s policies, so that no other woman down the road will have to go through what I went through. A Better Balance changed my life and I am very grateful.” – Clarissa, Missouri
For those workers who don’t yet have the legal protections they need, it is gratifying to be able to listen to their stories and affirm that what happened to them is an injustice, and that we are fighting to change the law. Some individuals go on to be powerful advocates themselves, sharing their stories publicly to call for change.
I am so proud to do this work and make a difference in the lives of workers like Clarissa and Adam, and I am grateful for the partnership of supporters who help make our direct services possible.