“What do the United States and Papua New Guinea have in common? They are the only countries in the world without paid family leave.” That is the tag line to a 2017 film called Zero Weeks.
As an employee in the U.S., the best you can usually hope for is to be covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While this does not give the right to paid leave, it does allow you time off for pregnancy, a new baby or if you need to care for someone who is sick. However, not all workers are covered. Employers with less than 50 staff are exempt, and if you have not worked for the employee for a year and completed around 26 hours per week, you do not qualify.
Everyone may need time off work at some point. Imagine your parent falls ill. Do you take unpaid time off to care for them, or do you continue working your job five days a week, hoping they make it through to the weekend when you can visit them again? If your baby needs to go into intensive care, what do you do? Some mothers have returned to work, leaving their baby alone in the hospital because they could not afford to take unpaid time off to stay with them.
There has been a slight glimmer of hope this year. The CARES Act expansion to the FMLA gives employees the right to 12 weeks paid leave to a maximum of two-thirds of salary or $200 per day. However, it is a temporary measure currently due to expire at the end of 2020. As with the standard unpaid FMLA, many employees fail to qualify.
If the FMLA or the CARES Act covers you, your employer may still try to deny your rights. They may threaten you with losing your job if you take time off. In these cases, you should consult an employment law attorney to ensure your rights are upheld.