Last week Vice President Biden hosted a panel of experts to highlight the unique challenges facing the middle class in our 21st century global economy. One thing we heard over and over again is that work-family balance is a real challenge for most middle class Americans.
For the millions of American workers who lack paid sick leave, personal leave or family leave, being able to take time off is a matter of economic security. This is especially true for the 3.7 million working adults with children under 14 and no other adult or older child to share child care responsibilities.
The stakes are even higher when the worker or a family member is coping with a contagious illness – like 2009 H1N1 - given that the consequences of an employee’s decision to go to work when ill or to send a sick child to school can adversely affect many others.
Unfortunately, current law does not protect the economic security of workers in these situations. Full economic security requires two assurances. First, workers who take leave because they or their children become sick must not lose their jobs or risk some other form of disciplinary action by their employers. Second, workers must have a source of income while they are temporarily on leave.
The Department of Labor testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday in support of the Healthy Families Act, which would provide the security that workers need, allowing millions more working Americans to earn up to 56 hours per year of paid sick time to care for themselves or their families. It assures them job security when they take leave and provides short-term continuation of workers’ incomes while they recuperate from illness or provide needed care to a family member.
At the Department of Labor, we are striving for good jobs for everyone. And one of the key components of a good job is having the flexibility to meet caregiving as well as workplace responsibilities. We believe that work-life balance includes policies such as paid leave, flexible work schedules and telework options, employee assistance programs, and access to child care and elder care support.
Thanks to the leadership of Vice President Biden we are proud to work with our colleagues in the Cabinet and the Middle Class Task Force to improve work-life policies, and efforts are underway to see how we can better meet the needs of modern working families. The Department’s testimony in support of the Healthy Families Act pointed to one important step in that direction.
Hilda Solis is the Secretary of Labor