As states in the surrounding area work to adopt policies regarding paid family leave, the issue is becoming more prominent in Connecticut, Director of the Women’s Center at the University of Connecticut Kathleen Holgerson said.
Connecticut does not mandate that employers offer paid leave to employees, according to the website for the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave. Paid family and medical leave refers to time off from work for an employee during which their job will be kept safe and they will be paid, Holgerson said.
“It is about making sure that folks who need to take time off for a variety of medical related kinds of situations [receive it], so it could be their own illness, it could be that they’re caretaking for a family member, it could be the birth or adoption of a child. [The FMLA] only guarantees their job for a certain amount of time, it doesn’t actually pay you during that time,” Holgerson said. “The proposal for paid family medical leave is to actually pay people during that time, and then to expand the program [FMLA] to cover more people.”
In 1990, Connecticut passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which offers 12-16 weeks of unpaid leave during which an employee’s job will be held, according to the website.
In order to qualify for FMLA, an employee must be employed in a company with at least 50 workers on a federal level or 75 on a state level, and must have worked a minimum of 1,000 hours with that company, according to the website.
There are many benefits to paid family leave, from both the employee and employer perspective, Holgerson said. For employees, a sense of financial security is a benefit, while employers experience greater company morale and employee retention as a result.
“From the employee perspective, having paid leave gives people a sense of not only job security, but financial security. It’s one thing to say you can come back to your job but most people can’t afford to not get paid while they’re on leave,” Holgerson said. “From the business perspective, it increases productivity and morale for your employees, [which] then [increases] the likelihood of people coming back, so [as an employer] you don’t have to spend time training new people and recruiting new people if you’ve got folks who are being retained at your company.”
According to the CT Campaign for Family and Medical Leave website, 78 percent of working people who did not take leave but needed it, made that decision because they could not afford to lose the income.
According to the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures, only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island currently offer paid family leave. Holgerson said Massachusetts is working toward this policy as well, adding that the United States is relatively behind regarding this issue in comparison with other countries.
“That was another one of the arguments for here in CT, because as we think about who’s right around us, if other states have this as a benefit and we’re trying to draw people here to work, we wanna be competitive with what’s being offered in other states,” Holgerson said. “In terms of other countries, the U.S. are pretty woefully behind in terms of what we’re offering for folks, particularly in terms of parental leave.”
Holgerson pointed out that one of the many issues regarding paid family leave is that it is not viewed as a feminist issue.
“Sometimes the way that we set things up, it creates this dynamic where women are sort of an inconvenience. It’s an inconvenience to think about maternity leave, it’s an inconvenience to think about how we accommodate breastfeeding or lactating parents,” Holgerson said. “There are all sorts of ways in which the system is not set up for that. For the most part, women weren’t part of designing those systems in the beginning. The message is ‘you’re just something we have to deal with,’ but this is life. This absolutely should have been a part of the planning to begin with, not something we figure out later.”
To be a part of the push for paid family and medical leave in Connecticut, Holgerson said people can get involved with the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, as well as to educate themselves.
“I would just really encourage people to get educated on the issue. There are lots of things that we have sort of visceral reactions to and maybe we’re not always so informed about what’s going on. So, before we react, how can we educate [people] more?” Holgerson said. “This is an academic institution, the whole point is to learn. So how can we make sure we’re making informed choices based on the information that’s out there?”
Miranda Garcia is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.