7 stories of how employees used paid family leave to better their lives
T he U.S. remains the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee workers paid family leave. In 2018, just 17% of civilian workers could get paid time off from work to care for a new child or ill family member, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure dips to 11% for workers at the smallest companies.
But a tightening labor market and a vast cohort of millennial workers beginning to start families are putting pressure on employers to expand their benefits to attract and retain workers. Eight states, plus the District, have also passed laws that require workers or their employer to pay into state paid leave funds through payroll contributions. And President Trump has signed a bill that, for the first time, will provide paid leave for the federal government’s estimated 2.1 million civilian employees following the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.
Large employers are offering more weeks of paid leave to employees trying to meet family obligations, such as caring for an elderly parent or sick older child, coping with the death of a family member, or in some instances taking care of a new pet.
“We’re seeing an increasing trend in interest in covering things that plague families beyond parental leave,” said Carol Sladek, who leads work-life consulting for the human resources consulting firm Aon. “It’s definitely bubbling up from employees: ‘But what about me? I’ve already raised my kid. I’m in my 50s, and my 85-year-old mom is sick.’ ”
Here are some stories, edited for length and clarity, of how some workers are using these broader definitions of paid leave.
M y mother died in the fall of 2017. She lived with cancer for about five years, but the last couple of months were probably the most trying. I have two pretty small children — at that time they were 8 years old — and it was very hard for me.
I was taking an awful lot of paid time off and working from home as much as I could. I had the best support from my leaders and colleagues. But what was present was a lot of guilt. If I was at an appointment with her, I was always skimming email. There wasn’t this approved, defined leave that I was on.
Then in February of this year, we found out my father had very aggressive mesothelioma. When his decline started, it was rapid. He didn’t feel good and nothing sounded good to eat. You prepare (food) and you carefully put it in front of them, and they will not eat any of it. There are all the side effects: Trouble-shooting constipation with your dad while sitting outside the bathroom door. That is the day of a caregiver. And then there’s the worrying. I just couldn’t sleep well.
There was a Saturday where he said: “I don’t know what else you can do for me.” He was basically asking to embark on hospice. I thought to myself: I’m going to have to deploy that four weeks (of leave).
The first week he was in hospice, he was on these medicines that you can really only get there. He was able to walk pretty well with a walker, and he had pretty good energy. There was this one day where he felt good — like surprisingly good — and I pulled my boys out of their summer care program and brought them over to play a board game. We could do something happy with him. If I hadn’t had the leave, and I heard that my dad was feeling good, I would have thought “Dad feels good today, maybe my brother will go down and watch a baseball game with him.” But with the leave, I felt able to go there and just be there with Dad.