Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Family-Leave and the Family Values Set

During summertime, I find it difficult to read anything beyond the headlines of Us Weekly and People magazines while waiting in line at the supermarket. An article by Eyal Press in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (July 29, 2007) not only held my limited attention, but left me outraged. The Family Medical Leave Act guarantees caregivers time off from work to care for family members in the event of a medical crisis. More and more, employers are passing over for promotions--or in some cases, firing--mothers or others who care for dependents based on the assumption that they will perform less adequately at their jobs than those without such family obligations. Mr. Press details the cases of several caregivers who were passed over for promotions, demoted, or fired because they took a family medical leave of absence. In one case, a man who was caring for his newborn daughter and wife who was undergoing a difficult recovery from delivery was told by his employer that unless his "wife is in a coma or dead, you can't be primary care provider." He sued, and won.

While I generally find the litiginous nature of our society to be detrimental to families (see my earlier post on divorce), I think workers must take a stand that there are times when a family member's care will require a leave of absence WITH the expectation that one will return to work at full capacity as soon as one can. I think it is also high time to disabuse employers of the notion that mothers are less dedicated workers than non-mothers. (Press notes that mothers are paid a starting salary $11,000 less than non-mothers.) As our society ages, more and more workers will require some leave to care for aging relatives. This issue, thus, affects all of us, parents and non-parents alike, for we all are children and grandchildren of people who are aging. Press also notes in his article that if employers are able to flex to help employees meet their familial and work obligations, they are rewarded with employee loyalty unmatched by other companies'. It shows how a little compassion can go a long way.

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