In August each year, we celebrate National Breastfeeding Month. It’s an opportunity to recognize the importance of breastfeeding and consider the challenges still before us in ensuring all mothers can breastfeed if they choose. Paid leave is an essential tool in establishing and sustaining breastfeeding.
As the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to rise in the U.S. and abroad, the need for workplace paid leave policies has become increasingly apparent. However, even in times of emergency, it is of great importance that proposed paid leave policies provide adequate protection to workers, including allowing workers time off to care for all of their loved ones.
American families are structurally complex and diverse, making a family definition that allows workers to care for a broad range of their loved ones – and not just those to whom they are biologically or legally related – a crucial piece of any effective paid leave policy. The need for an inclusive family definition is increasingly relevant now as the Coronavirus pandemic continues and more states have statewide or partial stay-at-home orders in place and social distancing is encouraged.
Staying at home and social distancing will look different for many workers: some will have their spouse or children with them, some will be with their unmarried significant others, some will be with their grandparents or grandchildren, others will have their unrelated roommates, and still others will rely on their neighbors or other loved ones for care and support. Because there is no “one size fits all” family, it is important that as workers are being ordered to stay home and practice social distancing, they are able to take paid leave to care for all of their closest loved ones.
Recently, Congress took important steps toward providing relief to workers and their families that have been affected by COVID-19 via the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under these federal laws, workers can take emergency paid leave (in addition to paid sick time that they may be eligible for under state and local laws) to care for their household or immediate family member (or other person for whom the worker would be expected to care when in quarantine or self-quarantine) for COVID-19-related reasons, and certain unemployed persons can receive pandemic unemployment assistance if they are unavailable to work because they are caring for a member of their household or family member for reasons related to COVID-19. By passing these caregiving provisions in the FFCRA and the CARES Act, Congress recognized that the people we care for in times of need transcend legal and biological bounds – family means more than the people we’re related to.
In a time where much-needed paid leave legislation is being proposed at the federal, state, and local levels, A Better Balance continues to work with legislators to pass legislation that works for all workers. To meet the demands of the pandemic crisis, it is essential that these laws have an inclusive family definition that ensures workers can care for their loved ones.