Paid Leave, Fair Scheduling, and a Living Wage
Reproductive justice and economic justice are intrinsically linked. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland supports workplace policies that give employees the time and financial support necessary to care for their own health and the health of their loved ones—namely, paid family and sick leave, fair scheduling, and a universal living wage.
Paid leave is a critical component of reproductive freedom, and everyone deserves the dignity and financial stability that it offers. Without it, mothers don’t have the time needed to heal from childbirth, and families don’t have time to bond with their new babies; families may face greater challenges in creating stable and nurturing homes for their children; people stuck in abusive situations must choose between taking time off to heal or pushing through the pain and working people sometimes must risk their livelihoods to care for sick or injured family members.
Despite these clear problems, the United States’ paid leave policies lag far behind those of the rest of the world. 145 countries guarantee workers paid sick leave, and over 120 provide paid maternity leave. The US has neither. That means workers can only take time off work if they can afford to do so, forcing low-income people to sacrifice their health or time with their newborns for a paycheck. We need national paid family and sick/safe leave policies to ensure that all working adults can take the adequate time they need to care for their families, bond with new children, be supported in leaving unsavory situations, and access necessary healthcare. Supporting a robust paid sick and safe leave program ensures that these things can happen for working adults in Maryland and beyond.
Fair scheduling is also key to ensuring that everyone can care for their children and loved ones and access the reproductive health services they need. When employers can make last minute schedule changes or deny employees the hours they need to get by, it becomes impossible for working people to schedule medical appointments, arrange childcare, and earn the money they need to support themselves and their families.
Paid leave and fair scheduling both facilitate access to vital reproductive health services, particularly prenatal care and abortion. Due to restrictive policies in many states mandating multiple appointments and long travel times to access abortion services, receiving abortion care can be a time-consuming and expensive process requiring careful scheduling and time off work. Data from the Guttmacher Institute shows that abortion-seeking patients who live in rural areas or states with mandatory counseling requirements are more likely than other patients to have to travel at least 100 miles to access abortion services. Paid leave and fair scheduling policies make it easier for patients in anti-choice states or healthcare deserts to receive the care they need.
Finally, we need to put into place policies that ensure that everyone is paid fairly, including establishing a national living wage, closing the pay gap, and ending discriminatory hiring practices. On average, women working full-time in the US make 80 percent of what men make. There are significant racial disparities within the pay gap; latinx women make just 53 percent of what white men make, and black women make 61 percent. Increased access to college education has helped narrow the pay gap but hasn’t eliminated it; women with college degrees still make 26 percent less than their male college-educated peers. The pay gap unfairly disadvantages women, particularly women of color, and robs them of income they may need to support their reproductive health and plan for a family. Lower wages impede women’s ability to pay for reproductive health services and take unpaid time off to access those services. Additionally, over 25 percent of families with children in the US are headed by single mothers. These working parents shouldn’t have to settle for unfairly low wages to support themselves and their families. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland is advocating for policies to increase wages for parents and reduce the pay gap, including banning the use of salary history in hiring decisions.
Parental Leave and Sick/Safe Leave: Federal law doesn’t guarantee employees paid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or childcare or for illness, and the minimal requirements for unpaid leave only apply to some employees. This just isn’t enough. Unpaid leave isn’t a real option for those who can’t afford to go without pay to take care of their own health or that of a loved one.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, guarantees new mothers (including those adopting children), up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. However, the FMLA requirements only apply to companies with 50 or more employees, and fathers can only use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to take care of their spouse if they’re seriously incapacitated. Furthermore, if employees have already taken unpaid leave for other health reasons or illness, that time gets taken out of their total 12 weeks. And this leave is only accessible for those who can afford to go three months without pay.
The US has some of the weakest parental leave requirements in the world. In a study of 41 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US was the only one to not guarantee any paid leave for new parents. In contrast, Estonia, the country with the strongest paid leave policy in the study, provides 86 weeks of paid parental leave. 34 of the 41 countries provide paid paternal leave as well as paid maternal leave.
The United States also doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave for employees. The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide unpaid leave for serious health conditions or illnesses for employees who have worked there for at least one year. All other employees don’t even have guaranteed unpaid sick leave. This means that employees may have to forgo vital reproductive healthcare, such as prenatal appointments, to earn a paycheck or keep their job. Furthermore, though employers cannot discriminate against employees who choose to have abortions, federal law does not require employers to grant requests for leave to access abortion services.
There has been some recent movement toward paid family leave at the federal level. In 2019, Congress passed the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act as part of a Department of Defense budget bill. This bill will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees starting in October 2020. Also in 2019, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced the FAMILY Act in Congress, which would establish an Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave in the Social Security Administration and guarantee paid family and medical leave to every worker.
Fair Pay: Currently, federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Prior to taxes, an employee making minimum wage who works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year would make just $15,080 annually. This is below the federal poverty level for a household of two people. It isn’t enough to support an individual, much less a family. In recognition of skyrocketing rents and cost of living across the country, the living wage movement advocates for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Increasing minimum wage nationwide would help workers in underpaid positions access reproductive healthcare and support their families.
Parental Leave and Sick/Safe Leave: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia have all gone beyond federal law to require paid parental leave for employees. Maryland, however, has yet to guarantee its workers paid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, and the care of new children.
In 2019, Maryland became one of ten states to provide at least some paid sick leave for employees with the passage of amendments to the Maryland Flexible Leave Act. Under this law, employees at businesses with 15 or more employees are eligible for up to 40 hours of paid leave, and employees at businesses with fewer than 15 employees are eligible for up to 40 hours of unpaid leave. However, employees who work fewer than 12 hours per week or who are under the age of 18 aren’t eligible for leave at all. Employees can use their leave for physical or mental health purposes, parental leave, issues related to domestic violence, or to take care of a sick family member.
Fair Pay: Maryland’s current minimum wage is $11 per hour, but is set to reach $15 per hour by 2025 thanks to the passage of SB0280 in 2019. However, this is only a living wage for single adults without children. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage research, for a single adult with one child in Maryland, a living wage is $29.39 per hour. That number increases exponentially with each additional child and for couples with a single income. We need to fight for a true living wage that recognizes many Marylanders’ childcare responsibilities and roles as the primary breadwinner of their families. Otherwise, we’re continuing to curtail the opportunities and quality of life of Maryland families, particularly those with single parents or multiple children.
In 2020, Maryland amended the Equal Pay Act to ban salary history questions, a measure supported by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. Beginning October 1, 2020, employers can no longer ask job applicants about their salary history or rely on an employee’s past salary to determine their current wages. The law also requires employers to give applicants a salary range for the job they’re applying to upon request. The salary history ban encourages fair pay for workers reentering the workforce after time off to raise children and workers coming from underpaid positions, who disproportionately tend to be women, especially women of color. Pay should be based on an employee’s duties and skills, not their past wages.
NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland is working to promote policies that promote the economic and physical wellbeing of Maryland families.
Maryland’s paid leave policies, despite recent advances, remain inadequate. We need to expand paid sick leave to employees at small businesses. By only providing unpaid leave to these workers, Maryland discourages them from taking the time to take care of their health and their families. No one should have to choose between their health or their family and their paycheck. Furthermore, we need to eliminate requirements that workers disclose details about their medical needs to get permission from their employers to take leave. Employees who need leave to access fertility, prenatal, or abortion care should not have to share this private information with their bosses or rely on their employers’ approval to schedule reproductive health appointments.
NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland is also advocating for the passage of a fair scheduling bill so that all Maryland workers can access reproductive healthcare in a timely manner and plan their childcare. First considered in 2016 as HB1175, the Fair Scheduling, Wages, and Benefits Act would require employers to provide employees with estimated work hours upon hiring, assign work schedules in 21 days in advance, and give sufficient warning prior to changes in those schedules. It would also require employers to pay one hour of predictability pay to an employee upon cancelling a scheduled shift and get written consent from employees before requiring them to work any unscheduled additional hours. The Fair Scheduling, Wages, and Benefits Act would give hourly workers more control over their own employment and the ability to schedule medical treatment and childcare in advance.
We also need to establish comprehensive paid leave for those who need to take time off work for medical or family needs. In 2020, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland advocated for the passage of HB0839, which would have created the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, a state-run insurance fund that would provide payments to workers taking up to 12 weeks of temporary leave for healthcare purposes, including the care of a new child. This would be particularly beneficial to new parents, allowing them to recover from childbirth, care for their newborns, and arrange childcare for when they do go back to work. Paid family and medical leave is a right particularly important for low-income workers who disproportionately are people of color. Passing HB0839 would mean recognizing the right of everyone, particularly low-income people, to start a family.
Olivia Graziano, Policy and Legal Research Intern, 2020