AAUW Issues: Work-Life Balance

The American Association of University Women is committed to promoting the economic, social, and physical well-being of all persons. AAUW works toward greater availability and access to a high standard of benefits and policies that promote work-life balance.

Unlike the majority of developed countries worldwide, the United States does not guarantee paid annual leave, paid time off for illness or family care, and 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. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), signed into law in 1993, was an important first step, the U.S. workforce continues to change, making policies such as paid leave, paid parental leave, and paid sick days necessary updates.

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FMLA: Unpaid Leave

FMLA, signed into law in 1993, is a federal policy that provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for eligible workers to take medical and parental leave. Employees may use FMLA leave when they are seriously ill or caring for a newborn, adopted child, or seriously ill member of their immediate family. When they return to their jobs, employees are guaranteed the same or an equal position to the one they held prior to their leave. FMLA has ensured that millions of workers were not fired simply because of a major illness or addition of a new child to their families.

Not everyone is covered by FMLA

About 40 percent of workers do not qualify for FMLA, for reasons such as working at companies with fewer than 50 employees, being employed for fewer than the required annual number of hours, or not having achieved enough tenure at a workplace. 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.

Paid Parental and Medical Leave

Additional Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on Work-Life Balance

Paid parental leave improves health outcomes for parents and children by ensuring adequate time for recovery after childbirth, breastfeeding, bonding, and immunizations for the infant. 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, as well as provisions that provide paid family and medical leave for public employees.

Paid Sick Days

AAUW supports federal legislation such as the Healthy Families Act, which allows workers to earn seven paid sick days for full-time employees (and a prorated number for part-time employees) each year. Paid sick days cover temporary and minor illnesses as well as allow for caregiving for a sick family member. Women are especially affected, because more than 22 million working women lack paid sick days. 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. In addition, without paid sick days, workers come to work sick and ensure the spread of communicable illnesses to their colleagues.