Family first, but not really: How the US is behind the entire world when it comes to paid family leave

VINCENT CALARCO – “We’re number one!” and “USA! USA! USA!” both chants Americans often hear, whether it be directed towards their favorite sports team or passionately proving their patriotism for the red, white, and blue. However, the United States continues to be behind the entire world (with the exception of Papua New Guinea) when it comes to providing all of its citizens with paid family leave.

In 1993, the 103rd United States Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend serious health concerns of the employee, parent, spouse, children, for pregnancy or care of a newborn child, or for adoption or foster care for a child.[1] The only employees eligible for FMLA are those who (1) have been with a business for at least 12 months, (2) worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months (roughly 105 hours per month), and (3) work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. [2]

Although this has provided millions of American workers with the benefit of leaving work to take care of their family, millions of Americans do not qualify for FMLA. There is a need for a universal implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Lately, some states and cities have implemented a version of their own family leave program and their successes are leading more states around the country to take similar action.[3] California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all finance their own family leave programs through payroll taxes for existing temporary disability programs. Most recently New York State Senator Kristen Gillibrand has proposed the same for New Yorkers.[4] Senator Gillibrand and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro have teamed up to propose the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act that would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program ensuring Americans would no longer have to decide whether it is more important to get a paycheck or take care of their loved ones.[5]

Below is a snapshot of what some countries around the world, that are not “number one” like ourselves, have to offer:

Sweden offers 16 months of paid parental leave.[6] Finland offers 9 months of paid leave.[7] Fins are provided with the opportunity to split their time or take additional time for childcare leave all the way up until the child’s third birthday.[8] United Kingdom gives 40 weeks of paid maternity leave.[9] Vietnam and Ireland both provide 26 weeks of paid leave.[10] Canada offers 15 weeks of paid leave.[11] China and Congo both provide 14 weeks of paid leave.[12] Mexico provides 12 weeks of paid leave.[13]

This is just a short list of the 70 countries that offer such a program. However, not all countries offer long term leaves for their employees. Spain and Australia offer 15 days and 14 days, respectively.[14]

A paid family leave program offered to all employees around the country would lead to many positive results similar to those that have occurred in California. “I care for my brother, who is disabled due to lifelong intractable epilepsy,” said Trish Hughes Kreis, a Sacramento, California resident.[15] “People shouldn’t have to choose between spending time with their newborn babies, caring for a family member, or going to work to put food on the table. Having an income source during these critical times can provide peace of mind,” said Los Angeles Councilmember Nury Martinez.[16]

With the 2016 U.S. presidential election heating up some candidates have thrown their own ideas into the mix of what to do about paid family leave. As of now, the only Republican candidate to provide any sort of plan is Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio has proposed tax incentive based program that would provide business with tax breaks to encourage them to offer paid family leave.[17] Senator Rubio, however, has stated family leave should not be federally legislated.[18]

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in full support of Senator Gillibrand and Representative DeLauro’s proposed family leave program.[19] The program that Senator Sanders supports would raise payroll taxes on workers $1.61 a week to fund the paid leave.[20] Doing the math, that would come to $83.72 per year, and that money would entitle each worker to three months paid family and medical leave.[21] Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has touted Senator Gillibrand’s proposal, but Clinton has been vague about whether she would like to see a similar program in place federally. [22]

So will the United States step up and show why it should be number one in the world? Only time will tell.


[1] Jonathan P. Baird, Monitor Board of Contributors: It’s time for the United States to recognize the importance of paid family leave, Concord Monitor (Jan. 7, 2016)

[2] 29 U.S.C. § 2611

[3] Michael M. Grynbaum, New York to Offer 6 Weeks Paid Parental leave to Nonunion Workers, NY Times (Dec. 22, 2015)

[4] Claire Cain Miller, Paid Family Leave Gets More Attention, but Workers Still Struggle, NY Times (Jan. 7, 2016)

[5] Id.

[6] supra note 1.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Meet Trish Hughes Kreis, Paid Family Leave CA,

[16] Meet Nury Martinez, Paid Family Leave CA,

[17] Jonathan P. Baird, Monitor Board of Contributors: It’s time for the United States to recognize the importance of paid family leave, Concord Monitor (Jan. 7, 2016)

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Jon Green, Hillary Clinton’s paid family and medical leave “plan” isn’t actually a plan, America Blog, (Jan. 8, 2016)

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