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Work-family solutions

Page history last edited by Nicole Witherbee 12 years, 1 month ago

Bates College

Note: please note that this issue brief should (a) link back to the issue overview on this topic, (b) be focused either the local, state, national, or global level, and (c) be neutrally presented, based on facts, and include footnotes for each of the items.  See the Research Guide and Information Sources to assist you. 



Goal Statement

  • Link here to the overview page for the goal statement related to this issue brief 

To provide suitable labor policies to fit our changing workforce.


Scope of the Problem  factual statements on the extent of the problem in the past, current, or future

  • Our current labor policies are modeled on an outdated vision of the American workforce and family. It is imperative that we adopt new labor legislation to match the evolving needs of our workforce. The nuclear family is no longer a realistic representation. According to a 2006 U.S. census estimate, single parents head 9% of families, and the majority of two-parent households are comprised of both parents working; it is evident that we need viable solutions for the new American family.   Unfortunately, our current labor policies do not deliver these solutions and our families, our workplaces, our economy, and our public health, are suffering the consequences. The Bureau of Labor statistics estimate that seventy-five percent of employees receive paid vacation time, and fifty percent receive paid sick days, leaving large proportions of workers in Maine without paid vacation or sick days.  These numbers are even more staggering for low income workers, with 86% of hotel and food workers and 78% of low-wage workers without any paid sick leave. 

        With an archaic perception of the family, where mothers are relegated to the home for housework and child-care, these statistics may not be as concerning. Yet, that model is very much outdated. Today, eighty percent of mothers with school-age children, two-thirds of mothers under the age of six, and the majority of mothers with infants, are working full time.  This trend reflects a growing financial need for there to be two wage-earners in a household. Wage stagnation and increases in the costs of necessities, are the undeniable contributing factors to this need.  According to the National Women’s Law Center, Between May of 2007 and May of 2008, in the Boston-Brockton-Nashua area, the cost of groceries increased 3.5% and home energy costs increased 25.4%.  The prevalence of parents in the labor force with childcare obligations increases the need for workplace solutions that are sensitive to families.

        We need realistic solutions to allow these working parents to better balance their work and family life. When work and family come into tension the unfortunate consequence is often job loss or the neglect of one’s family-care duties. According to a New America Foundation study, there are “direct links between work-family conflict and both child and adult obesity, as well as adult mental health disorders, metabolic disorders, transference or anxiety to children, and child behavior problems.”  Moreover, caring for sick family members, including aging parents causes 40% of job loss.  Clearly, for many family caregivers, work-family is not as much a balance as it is a dilemma.

        This discussion of work-family tensions brings up another obstacle to a family-friendly labor model: the trend of caregiver discrimination. Right now, a worker with family obligations can be denied a position they apply for, fired, underpaid, refused a promotion, or have their benefits, hours, or responsibilities reduced, solely because of their commitments at home. This has harmful implications for working families. Not only is it the case that caregivers face challenges balancing work and family life, but employers are allowed to justify workplace discrimination based on generalization about these challenges. With our evolving workforce, this trend will likely increase, the Center for WorkLife Law reports that there has been close to a 400% increase in Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) claims between the years 1995 and 2005.  Not only are our caregivers facing substantive challenges balancing work and family but also, instead of this trend contributing to workplace solutions, it is resulting in workplace discrimination. Our current labor standards force our caregivers to make impossible choices between their financial security and their care obligations.


    Our Children, Our Future

    This choice is often at the expense of one’s children’s health or academic success. When parents are able to respond to the academic and medical needs of their children, they safeguard against more dire needs. According to the Economic Opportunity Institute, “Numerous medial studies have found that children have less severe symptoms and recover more quickly from illness or injury when a parent is present. In fact, children’s hospital stays are 31% shorter when a parent is present.”  Moreover, when their parents are available to take them to preventative care appointments, the need for timely and expensive hospital care visits will likely decrease. These benefits extend to the classroom, when parents are available to be involved in their children’s academic pursuits, their children will likely do better. According to a Harvard study, “half of the parents of children scoring in the bottom quartile on math and reading tests were or had recently been in jobs without any paid leave.”  Our children are our future and by denying their parents responsive workplace policies we are jeopardizing our future.



    We will all benefit from better solutions, even our employers. Retention of employees is a more challenging task when those employees must juggle caregiving responsibilities. It is difficult to balance work and family life, and often times working caregivers are forced to quit because their work does not accommodate for their caregiving obligations. This does not only hinder these caregivers but also their employers. According to The Employment Policy Center, turnover costs average 25 percent of an employee’s annual salary.   Providing more family-friendly workplace policies will help employers maintain the productivity and labor that they would otherwise lose if employees were forced to quit to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities. According the research compiled by the Center on Law and Social Policy, a flexible work schedule is ranked third among strategies for employee retention.  There are substantive work-place benefits to providing flexible alternatives for working parents.


    Public Health

    These benefits extend to the society as a whole, as they directly affect our public health and our economy. When a working parent cannot take time off from work to take care of a sick child, that child is likely going to school sick. Sick children in school means illnesses spreading more rapidly. The spread of disease in a workplace is common, according to a study published by the MultiState Working Families Consortium; on average an individual with flu infects 18 percent of their coworkers. But the spread of disease is not only amongst coworkers, According the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Approximately 86% of food and public accommodation workers have no paid sick days at all. Employees working in childcare centers, retail, and nursing homes are also frequently denied paid sick days. Clearly illnesses of individuals in these careers can spread to anyone. We need workplace policies that allow these individuals to seek the health care they need, so that we all can stay healthy.


    The Economy and our Social Services

    In this economy, it is even more important that we work to keep people in their job, as job loss isn’t only costly for our families and businesses but it also puts a burden on the taxpayer in the form of social services. In a time of economic recession, with a decreasing amount of federal and state money going to social services, family caregivers play a vital role. Despite the significant financial costs of care giving, job security and livable wages enable many parents to support their families without the need for social services such as food stamps and TANF (Transitional Assistance for Needy Families). The National Family Caregiver Association estimates the value of caregiving by family caregivers to be $1,455 million dollars in Maine. That is $1,455 million dollars that our state does not need to invest in social services. When caregivers are forced to lose their job due to difficulty balancing work and family obligations, these individuals, as well as those they care for, may have an increased reliance on social programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps and TANF.    


    Eldercare Solutions

    With one of the nation’s oldest populations, family-friendly legislation is particularly important in Maine. The Department of Human Services estimates that a third of working Americans have eldercare responsibilities; however, this rate is likely to rise as our population of baby-boomers increases.   In 2000, the Maine State Planning Office reported that 14% of Maine’s population was 65 or older. This number was expected to rise to 26.5% by 2030, while our population of under-18-year-olds declines. These shocking statistics reveal that we have a rising number of retired workers in Maine.  Work-family solutions are particularly important to ensure that our caregivers are able to look after their aging relatives.




Past Policy  key legislation and milestones including significant policy and funding shifts, major studies, etc.


  • Right now FRD is a grey area in employment law. Employees can bring FRD claims under Title VII, equal pay, ADA, PDA, ERISA, in addition to various torts, common law theories or state statutes. This list of acronyms, titles, and statues, is difficult to digest and even more difficult to navigate. As this is confusing for all of us, the unfortunate consequence of this unclear law can be the misunderstanding of the employer or the employee concerning their legal rights or requirements. Such misunderstandings can result in costly and time consuming legal battles. Employment protections and discrimination laws are confusing for both employees and employers.

    The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects pregnant women from workplace discrimination, but it does not extend once the child is born, or if the individual have eldercare responsibilities.

    Title VII of the 14th Amendment protects individuals against sex-based discrimination in the workplace.



  • The Federal Family Medical Leave act requires that private employers, with 50 or more employees, and all public employers, provide an employee who has worked for at least a year, with a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave, for:

        -The birth and care of a child of the employee

        -Personal medical leave, or that of a spouse, child, or parent, to look after a severe     illness 

        -For the placement of a son or daughter in foster care or adoption. 

    The Maine Family Medical Leave Act extends this coverage to workplaces with more than 15 employees, but reduces the leave to 10 weeks over a two-year period. 




Current Policy  summary of current policies in the form of legislation, programs, and funding




Policy Options   

  • Link here to the overview page for the policy options and/or model programs related to this issue brief 


In order for our labor standards to catch up with our labor needs it is imperative that we adopt paid sick leave policies and protect our caregivers from unwarranted discrimination. Such policies will help our caregivers balance their family obligations with their job.




Paid sick days legislation require that employers allow their employees to take a minimum number a paid sick days a year if they, or a family member, necessitates medical attention.

On the national level, Senator Kennedy and Representative DeLauro have introduced, “The Healthy Family Act,” which would provide a minimum of seven paid sick days for employees in workplaces with 15 or more employees.




To protect our caregivers from Family Responsibility Discrimination Human Rights acts should be amended as to include caregivers as a protected class, which will subsequently provide caregivers with an administrative process through which they can file a claim if they experience discrimination in workplace.

Currently Alaska prohibits parenthood discrimination and the District of Columbia prohibits parent discrimination for federal employees. Various states have proposed legislation to protect family caregivers such as: New Jersey, California, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.


Other Important Legislative Initiatives


Paid sick days and protection from family caregiver discrimination are important steps towards establishing labor standards that match the needs of our workforce, however, these solutions are not sufficient to combat the substantive challenges working caregivers face, other important legislative initiatives include:


Soft Touch Legislation:



“Soft Touch” or “Right to Request” policies facilitate employee-employer discourse regarding flexible work schedules. Legislation of this kind was implemented in the United Kingdom in 2003, as part of the Flexible Working Regulations of 2002. The UK law provides caregivers with a procedure to seek a more flexible or part-time working situation, as long as the employer deems the change feasible. This legislation has proven very successful: “new data from the third Work Life Balance Survey of employers demonstrated both that the availability of flexible working was on the increase and that 91% of requests were granted by employers.”  


Restricting Mandatory Over Time:


Such legislation would make it illegal for employers to mandate that their employees work overtime (more than 40 hours in a week).


Subsidizing Child Care:


Childcare access is costly and challenging for many of Maine’s families that are struggling to balance family and work. The livable wage of one working parent with two children is $37,759 a year, and the average cost of one child in day care is 7,803 (20% of the livable wage).  Despite financial assistance from both the state and federal level, subsidies reach only 34% of children in need.  With almost 28% of Maine’s families living below the poverty line, there is a great need for more childcare assistance to Maine’s needy families. 

Providing Parents Time off To Participate in Their Child’s Schools

Such legislation would require employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school-related meetings. States that already have such legislation include: California, Massachusetts, DC, Illinois, Louisiana, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Nevada, and Minnesota.  


Maine: Paving the Way for Family-Friendly Labor Standards


Maine has led the pack in introducing legislation to promote a work-family balance. In 2008, “An Act to Care for Working Families” was introduced to the Maine State Legislature. This bill would have provided up to nine paid sick days for employees in a workplace with 25 or more employees.  Unfortunately, this legislation did not managed to pass, but it will likely be reintroduced in the next year. In 2009, “An Act to Protect Family Caregivers” was introduced to the Maine State Legislature, which would amend the Maine Human Right Act as to add caregivers as a protected class, the status of this legislation is still pending. With these two important pieces of legislation Maine will be well on its way to more suitable labor standards that benefit our families, our public health, our workplaces and our economy.


Key Organizations/Individuals   contacts for public and private organizations and key individuals




The Maine Women’s Lobby

The Maine Center on Economic Policy


Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Work-Life Law (A Center at UC Hastings College of the Law)

A Better Balance

The New America Foundation

The Economic Opportunities Institute

Progressive States Network


Glossary of Terms

  • Link here to the overview page for the glossary of terms related to this issue brief 



Bibliography   web sites, reports, articles, and other reference material 

  •   US Census, 2006. http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/families_households/009842.html

      Watkins, Marilyn P. The Case for Minimum Paid Leave for American Workers. The Economic Opportunity Institute.  January, 2004. www.EOIonline.org

      Epstein, Jodie Levin and Boyd, Laura. Paid Sick Days Legislation The Center on Law and Social Policy. November, 2006

      Watkins, Marilyn P. The Case for Minimum Paid Leave for American Workers. The Economic Opportunity Institute.  January, 2004. www.EOIonline.org

       Tabb, William K. “Wage Stagnation, Growing Insecurity, and the Future of the U.S. Working Class.” Monthly Review. June, 2007.

      CONGRESS MUST ACT NOW TO CLOSE THE WAGE GAP FOR MAINE WOMEN . (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2008, from www.nwlc.org/pdf/Ledbetter%20state%20fact%20sheet%20Maine%207-29-08-Logo-Fina.pdf.

      Kaye, Kelleen, and David Gray. The Stress of Balancing Work and Family: the Impact on Parent and Child Health and the Need for Workplace Flexibility. The New America Foundation. Washington, DC, 2007.

      Widener, Anmarie J. Family Friendly Policies: Lessons From Europe II.

      Williams, Joan, Family Responsibilities Discrimination. The Center for Work Life Law of UC Hastings College of Law. 2009. <www.worklifelaw.org>

      Watkins, Marilyn P. The Case for Minimum Paid Leave for American Workers. The Economic Opportunity Institute.  January, 2004. <www.EOIonline.org> p3


      Kornbluh, Karen. Win-Win Flexibility. The New America Foundation. Washington, DC, 2005. <www.newamerica.net>.

      Levin-Epstein, Jodie. How to Exercise Flexible Work: Take Steps with a Soft Touch Law. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Washington, DC, 2005

      Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging. Statistics on the Aging population, 2005.

      Williams, Joan, Family Responsibilities Discrimination. The Center for Work Life Law of UC Hastings College of Law. 2009. <www.worklifelaw.org>

         Walsh, Imelda. The United Kingdom. Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Department of Business. A Review of How to Extend the Right to Request Flexible Working to the Parents of Older Children. May 2008. <www.berr,gov.uk>. Pg 14.

     Moses, L., & Bowler, K. (n.d.). Child Care in Maine: A report to the 123rd Maine State Legislature. Retrieved October 15, 2008, from www.state.me.us/dhhs/ocfs/ec/occhs/childcareadvisorycouncilreporttoleg

      2008 Child Care in the State of: Maine. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2008, from

      Legal Resources Group, May 2008. State Laws Regarding Time Off from Work for Parents to Attend School Activities:



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