AAUW Issues: Paid Leave

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) works toward greater availability and access to a high standard of benefits and policies that promote work-life balance, including paid family and medical leave and paid sick days.

Unlike the majority of developed countries worldwide, the United States does not guarantee paid annual leave, paid time off for illness or family care, or paid parental leave. Without these policies, balancing the responsibilities of work and family can be difficult for employees, negatively impacting productivity, making recovery from major illnesses or injuries difficult, and in some cases inhibiting the healthy development of children. In addition, for the millions of Americans without paid sick days, a decision to stay home to care for a sick child or family member could jeopardize their job or family income.

AAUW has long supported flexible workplace policies to address the family responsibilities of employees. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed into law in 1993, was an important first step, its promise remains out of reach for many, and the U.S. workforce continues to change, making it necessary to update the law with policies such as paid leave, paid parental leave, and paid sick days.

FMLA: Unpaid Leave

At some point, most workers will need time away from work to deal with a serious personal or family illness or to care for a new child. The Family and Medical Leave Act makes it possible to take family leave and keep your job for some workers but not all.

Unfortunately, FMLA fails to cover about 40 percent of workers. This happens at companies with fewer than 50 employees and also when workers have too short of a tenure in their workplace or have worked for fewer annual hours than required. Expanding FMLA coverage to more workers would be beneficial; however, even when covered, many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave without endangering their economic security.

As a result, many families do without time off for serious personal or family illnesses or when they need to care for a new child. If they had access to paid parental leave, we know that health outcomes would improve for parents and children thanks to adequate time for recovery after childbirth, breastfeeding, bonding, and immunizations for the infant. In addition, paid medical leave ensures employees time to recover from major medical events and the ability to care for an immediate family member during a serious illness.

Without access to paid leave, workers (especially women) face the continuing economic disadvantage of lost wages and are forced to prematurely return to work. AAUW supports passage of the FAMILY Act, which would establish paid parental leave for most of the U.S. workforce. We also support provisions to expand FMLA and ones that provide paid family and medical leave for public employees. Finally, AAUW urges states to follow the path of California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, New York, and Washington, D.C., and pass paid family and medical leave laws.

Paid Sick Days

Additional Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on Paid Leave

In addition to lacking paid family and medical leave, at least 37 million private-sector workers — nearly one-third of the workforce — cannot earn paid sick days. This means that when they fall ill with the flu or have a sick child who needs to stay home, workers have to make tough decisions — jeopardize their employment or go to work sick? Low-wage workers are especially hard hit. These low-wage workers often must go to work sick and contagious. For those who work in industries such as food service, that endangers public health.

More than 22 million working women do not have paid sick days, and as a result more than half of working mothers report that they must miss work and often go without pay when caring for a sick child. Women disproportionately bear the economic opportunity cost of taking children or elderly family members to the doctor. Yet many women delay seeking health care for themselves because they cannot take time off work, affecting their abilities as employees and primary caregivers.

Paid Sick Days Are Good for Employers and Employees

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance urges employers — regardless of the size of their business or services provided — to encourage sick workers to stay home without fear of losing their jobs. If hardworking Americans have access to a minimum number of earned sick days that can also be used to care for sick family members, working parents and caregivers will no longer have to make the difficult choice between caring for loved ones — or themselves — and losing much-needed income. For a family without paid sick days, three days of pay lost to illness can be the equivalent of their monthly health care or food budget.

Offering workers the option of taking time off when they or a family member is sick is not just good for families, it is good for business. The success of San Francisco’s paid sick days ordinance demonstrates how viable paid sick days can be for businesses and employees: Six out of every seven employers in San Francisco did not report negative profitability effects.

AAUW supports federal legislation such as the Healthy Families Act, which will provide seven accrued paid sick days annually for full-time employees and a prorated number for part-time employees. We also encourage states and cities to follow the example of the seven states and twenty-nine cities that have paid sick time laws on the books.

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