FMLA Turns 20: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

This morning, when I appeared on the CoHealth Checkup Radio Show to discuss “Resolving Work vs. Life Conflict,” hosts Fran Melmed and Carol Harnett asked me what I thought about the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turing 20 years old.

My response covered the good, the bad and the ugly:

The Good of FMLA

Yes, since FMLA was implemented, workers have used it 100 million times to care for loved ones and themselves without fear of losing their job. And the dire predictions that businesses would collapse under its weight did not materialize. This should be celebrated.

The Bad of FMLA

Unfortunately, many Americans are not able to take advantage of the time off and protections offered under FMLA. Because it is unpaid leave, it can be too costly.  And, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt, which means that tens of millions are ineligible.

The Ugly

While there is nothing “ugly” about FMLA itself, the caregiving demands we are going to face over the coming decades will be daunting for many, especially responsibilities related to eldercare. Yesterday, I appeared on Huffington Post Live to discuss the looming “The Eldercare Cliff,” and it was clear from the experts interviewed that things are bad now, but they are going to get much worse. The unpaid, limited support under FMLA will be inadequate for many, many families.

Where do we need to go?

Cheer the success of FMLA over the last two decades, but view it as a start, not an end. Use the Act’s success as a springboard to the next step which is paid leave that covers more workers. We desperately need it now, and will need it even more in the not too distant future.

What do you think?

For more, I invite you to:


3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Paid Family Leave

In business school, we were taught that a solid strategy recognizes the exogenous (external) and endogenous (internal) challenges facing your business and addresses them. Employee child care and eldercare responsibilities are not only two major external business challenges, but they become internal issues the minute an employee walks in the door or signs onto his or her computer.

In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our capitalistic, profit-oriented savvy; therefore, given the growing magnitude of employee caregiving realities, you would assume that employers would support a clear, consistent uniform strategic response.  One that minimized business disruption and kept employees engaged and productive over the long-term. Unfortunately, the reality is the exact opposite.

Status of Paid Family Leave in the U.S.

Out of 178 countries worldwide, the United States is one of three that does not guarantee new mothers paid leave. The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Nationwide, in March 2011, only 11% of the private sector workers and 17% of public sector workers reported having access to paid leave through their employer.

Only two states in the country, California and New Jersey, offer six weeks of paid family leave to men and women who are caregivers.  Even in the face of state budget challenges, both programs are healthy and successful. Unfortunately, the state leaves are not job-guaranteed which makes the time difficult to take. (New Jersey Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet / California Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet)

Yes, there are 12 weeks of job-guaranteed FMLA, but it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt which eliminates a large percentage of workers.

In terms of private paid leave offered directly to employees by employers, 58% of mothers who gave birth and were offered leave by their employer received some form of maternity disability pay, but only 14% of men on paternity leave received any replacement income (2012 National Study of Employers). That means 42% of mothers and 86% of fathers with employer supported leave received no income at all.

A Brief History

Historically, a coalition of labor, women’s, child and health advocates have promoted paid family leave. They’ve emphasized the well-documented public health benefits, the peace of mind of employees, benefits for children and eldercare cost savings. While valuable and important, these rationales haven’t withstood the “job killer and “anti-business” arguments used by groups like the Chamber of Commerce to fight approval. (Note: at the end of the post, you will find new information that could indicate the Chamber’s position on caregiving as an important business challenge is evolving, at least in their organization.)

Why?

There are workplace and public policies that plan for time off and income replacement in case of illness or injury. There are 401Ks and social security for when you retire and can no longer work. Why isn’t there a coordinated, uniform workplace and public policy that offers time off and at least partial income replacement when people, inevitably, have babies or an aging parent needs care? Why?

I wanted the question “why” answered when I attended last month’s Paid Family Leave Forum at the Ford Foundation sponsored by the National Center for Children in Poverty, New York State Paid Leave Coalition and A Better Balance. What I learned reinforced my long-held belief that every card-carrying capitalist should support paid family leave public policy because:

  • Paid family leave acknowledges and addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and, therefore, should be planned for strategically, uniformly and deliberately;
  • Paid family leave is NOT a tax, but income replacement insurance program funded by employees at minimal cost and
  • We are paying for a cost for caregiving already, albeit indirectly and inefficiently.

But, First, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Before we dig deeper into each of the reasons listed above, I have to establish my business credibility, or “cred.” Too often when someone tries to engage the business community on issues that they consider “soft” or societal in nature, the messenger is dismissed as “not understanding business.” This, in turn, dismisses the message. I’m a messenger who can’t be easily dismissed with that argument because I do “get” business.

I was a banker for seven years, specializing in lending to closely held companies and I graduated, with honors, from Columbia Business School. I can rock a balance sheet and cash flow statement with the best of them, and I’ve even been known to find a strange joy in deciphering the “story” within the notes at the back of an annual report. I am a flexible work strategy consultant who works inside of organizations regularly, and I believe that both people and the business must benefit if flexible work is going to succeed.

As advocates for paid family leave found in California, I am not alone. Many business people support a uniform, public policy to address this challenge, but their voices were drowned out by the groups lobbying against it.

3 Reasons Every Card-Carrying Capitalist Should Support Paid Family Leave

My knowledge of and respect for business is why I think every card-carrying, profit-oriented capitalist should support paid family leave policy (or at least not stand in its way):

Reason #1: Paid Family Leave acknowledges and addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and, therefore, should be planned for strategically and deliberately.

The truth is that we are all potential caregivers. We may not end up having children, but all of us have parents and aging relatives who will very likely at some point require care.

Most mothers and fathers have to work and will be in the workforce when they have children. According to studies by the Center for American Progress, “in 2010, among families with children, 49% were headed by two working parents and 26% by single parents.” In 2009, employed wives of dual-earner families contributed 47% of total family earnings. In most cases, the income of both parents is critical to a family’s financial well-being.

With regard to eldercare, in 2010, 45% of employees surveyed said they had eldercare responsibilities over the past five years, and 49% expect to have responsibilities in the next five years. As the population ages, the eldercare challenges are expected to grow and many of those caregivers—men and women–will be in the workforce.

Paid family leave as public policy acknowledges the reality of caregiving by creating a uniform, clear response. Disruption is minimized because everyone knows the rules of the road. Business can plan in advance how the work will get done should an employee take leave for the prescribed six week period of time. This is especially true for maternity leave where, usually, you have months to plan. For example, perhaps the business can use the wages not paid to the employee on leave to hire a temporary worker, or to pay exist staff to take on the extra work during the leave.

It’s worth noting that a follow-up study of employers in California found that a majority felt paid family leave had either a positive or neutral impact on their business.

Reason #2: In the case of California and New Jersey, Paid Family Leave is NOT a tax, but an income replacement insurance program funded by employees.  In fact, some advocates feel a more accurate name is Family Leave Insurance. (Click HERE to go to Forbes.com for more)


How to Advocate for Family Leave Insurance, a.k.a “Paid Family Leave,” in Your State

This week I wrote a post for Forbes.com entitled “3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Family Leave.”  To help individuals advocate for Paid Family Leave (which is really Family Leave “Insurance”) in their state, Ellen Bravo the Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of 16 state and local coalitions helping spur the growing movement for family-friendly workplace policies, offered the following get-started tips:
  1. Stay informed about legislation in your state or nationally by signing up with a group or coalition working on this issue. You can find more information on these websites: Family Values at Work and the National Partnership for Women and Families.
  2. Spread the word. Urge any group you’re involved with to become a part of the coalition. Speak up on your Facebook page or on Twitter, in a letter to the editor or in a post for a community or congregation newsletter.
  3. Share your personal experience, positive or negative, with legislators (contact information for state legislators can be found online). Let them know the impact on babies, on those dealing with chronic illness or aging, on families and on caregivers like you when employees do or don’t have access to affordable family leave.
  4. Create a personal network of at least 5 people, urge each of them to share their own experience with legislators – and if possible, urge your 5 people to create their own network of 5.

For more, connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.


How Do I Tell My Boss I’m Pregnant

“How do I tell my boss that I’m pregnant?” When a young woman posed this question to a career panel I participated in recently, she reminded me why it’s important to review the basic work+life fit questions periodically. It’s easy to assume everyone knows the answers, when the truth is we often don’t.

So here’s a recap of the “when and how to tell” advice the panel offered:

First, tell your boss as soon as you are showing. Your boss, as well as the rest of the team, will know you’re pregnant. But they’ll be too scared to say something potentially illegal. So as soon as you are comfortable disclosing your good news, share it. The earlier they all know, the sooner everyone can plan for your time out of the office.

Second, offer no apologies when you break the news. Be happy and proud. This was great advice offered by the two senior executive women on the panel with me. Both of them had stories of taking new jobs only to find out a couple of weeks later that they were pregnant. Breaking the news to their respective new employers wasn’t easy but in both instances they received nothing but support.

Third, by the time you are ready to leave to have the baby, make sure that all of your work is covered by and transitioned to others. Trouble happens when you leave and the people you work with don’t know what’s going on with your projects, where to find information, etc. If managed the right way, maternity leaves should be an employer’s favorite work+life fit challenge. Why? Because unlike illness, a natural disaster or eldercare, pregnancy usually allows time for advanced planning.

Fourth, be clear about your expectations related to connectivity to work while you are out. Some women will want to send and answer emails on the delivery table. Others don’t want to have any interaction with work at all. Neither choice is right or wrong. It’s what works for you; however, try not to send mixed messages. If you email during your leave, work will assume that you want them to keep you in the loop. If you start one way and then change your mind, just let people know. Don’t suffer in silence.

What do you think?  How do you tell your boss that you are pregnant? Obviously this is a question on the mind of many young women. How can we help them navigate this big, happy transition as smoothly as possible?

(This post originally appeared on Forbes.com)


Cali NYTimes “Shifting Careers” Guest Blogger–Eldercare, the Inevitable Work/Life Issue

One of the best career columnist/bloggers is Marci Alboher who writes the “Shifting Careers” daily blog and weekly column for the New York Times. Marci was a great source of support during my mother’s illness this past year, and she asked me to share what I learned to help others manage the work+life fit transition of eldercare. Here’s the blog from the Monday, December 3rd New York Times:

Eldercare, an Inevitable Work/Life Issue

By MARCI ALBOHER, New York Times “Shifting Careers” Blog

If there is one issue that most of us will face, it is likely to be the need or desire to spend time with an aging relative or close friend. I have a 93-year-old grandmother who lives a remarkably independent life. She lives in and cares for her own home, prepares her own meals and does most of her own food shopping. Until two years ago, when she gracefully agreed not to use her car anymore, she also drove. What she wants and needs most is company, and she never fails to recognize how busy all of us “young people” around her are even as my mother, my two cousins and I do our best to visit each week. We are the lucky ones. My grandmother is relatively healthy and autonomous, and we are able to enjoy the time we spend with her. I also have a flexible working life, so if I visit her on a Tuesday, I can work on a Saturday to make up for it.

But what about the millions of workers whose working lives afford far less flexibility? According to the 2004 Caregiving in the U.S study, conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving, AARP and the MetLife Foundation, there were an estimated “44 million caregivers age 18 and older in the U.S. (21 percent of the population) caring for another adult,” a number that will only increase as the population ages.

Volumes have been written about balancing work with caring for young children. In fact, many journalists writing about the workplace are finding daily fodder on that issue alone. But eldercare is an issue that will catch up with most workers. And both workers and employers need to be prepared.

Cali Williams Yost, an author and consultant on workplace flexibility, is one of the most sophisticated thinkers on what she calls “work+life fit,” and this summer, after her mother died, she wrote an especially moving and eye-opening blog post about her own experience. That post starkly outlined the reasons that eldercare is so much more complex and challenging than childcare, especially the fact that eldercare can be sad and only get worse whereas childcare is filled with hope and gets easier as time goes on. (more…)


More High Potential Men Want Flexibility to See Their Kids or They Will Leave

Tom’s Story

I met Tom last night when I spoke to a group of accountants who had been with their firm less than four years. Tom was one of the leaders in charge of these new hires, and his presence confirmed his value to the firm. Only the most high-potential leaders are usually invited to attend these events.

He asked what my speech was about. I told him I would show the group how each employee could begin to strategically partner with the firm to manage their unique work+life “fit” throughout the transitions in their life and career. “That’s great,” he said, “because it’s a struggle for all of us including me.” And with that he opened his laptop and asked, “Want to see my son?” Tom showed me pictures of his adorable child. “That’s my boy,” he said with a huge smile on his face. Then he got serious. “You know, it’s so hard to find time with him, and to be a help to my wife who is home full-time but still needs support. When I get home most nights at 9:00 p.m., I’m not seeing my son at all, and my wife is going to bed because she’s so exhausted. I’m glad to see you’re here because I wonder sometimes if there’s a place for me at this firm because my family is so important to me.” “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “not again.”

(more…)


Why Are Women’s Groups Protesting Elizabeth Vargas’ Work+Life Choices?

This past week three of the country’s most high-profile women’s advocacy groups—National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority Foundation, and the National Council of Women’s Organizations—made headlines by announcing their plans to publicly protest the departure of Elizabeth Vargas from the anchor position of ABC’s “World News Tonight.” They sent a letter to ABC News President, David Westin, calling the move a “clear demotion,” and a “dispiriting return to the days of discrimination against women that we thought were behind us.” (Washington Post 5/29/06) (more…)


How Often is Eldercare the Real Tipping Point? More Often Than We Might Think…

As people learn about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, many have shared their personal experiences of caring for an adult relative. I’ve noticed an interesting pattern, especially in the stories of mothers who also have young children. A number of them either worked full-time or part-time until an adult relative got sick. And then they quit. In other words, contrary to what we hear in the media, caring for their children wasn’t too much. It was the additional care of an adult relative that ultimately drove them out of the workforce. For example,

  • Jill was a banker in New York City who had just had her second child when her mother’s cancer recurred. She felt she couldn’t get any flexibility at her firm, “all or nothing,” so she quit her job to help care for her mother until she died, and never returned to the workforce. (more…)