Sunday, April 23, 2017

Paid Family and Medical Leave

This student thinks we need a paid medical leave law for employees to receive income on days they take off from work to care for their children.

In today’s society, there are many reasons that families need time off from work. For my reflection essay, I will be discussing the policy on paid family and medical leave. This policy effects many people because things happen in people’s lives every day that could hinder them from going to work, however, the United States does not have guarantee pay for leave. Therefore, many people are upset and fighting for a change in the healthcare act- Family Medical and Leave act - that only allows certain individuals leave with pay. This topic relates to the course because social workers have the opportunity to help advocate for families who have to take time off work for medical issues or domestic family issues. Social workers can also help because if the act never gets approved than the social worker can try to help the employer and client work some type of agreement out.

I believe that the current FMLA act only helps the wealthy companies because they are the ones who can afford to pay those extra expenses. The current act, in truth, only affects the low-income families who cannot afford to miss a day of work to go to a doctor’s appointment because they live paycheck to paycheck and need the money. Therefore, this policy should be changed to benefit more than just the high paying companies because the families who work in the companies who do not provide pay for leave are the ones who actually need it.

Source: Findlay, Steve. "Paid Family and Medical Leave." Health Policy Briefs. N.p., 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

The problem of paid family leave and medical leave is one where there are some conflicting values. Adults in a society have an economic role, and usually they are selling their time and labor to an employer, who then has some power over the employee during times when the employer is paying for the employee’s work.  Adults also have other valuable roles, and we usually don’t pay them for these other roles.  In a democracy, citizens should be good citizens, and that implies they need time to keep informed of local, state, and national issues.  They need time to engage in debate in the public sphere, attend meetings of interest groups or community groups, and they need time to vote or campaign for candidates and issues that they believe are important and good for society.  Much of this citizenship activity is something they do on their own time, but there may sometimes be conflicts between the labor hours they are selling and the hours they need to work in their “jobs” as citizens.  

People also have duties to their community: they should maintain the properties they rent, and maintain and improve the property they own. They may need to take care of neighbors or attend community events, use parks and libraries, patronize theaters and concerts, attend festivals and sporting events. They ought to do some of these things in the company of friends or neighbors.  Doing these things maintains the quality of the community.  Again, like the citizenship tasks, these community member tasks are mostly done on a person’s own time, but conflicts might arise with the time an employer claims.  

Finally, many people serve society by reproducing labor (having or adopting or fostering children, and helping them to grow into responsible independent adults who will also be good employers or employees, good citizens, and good community members.  This task of reproducing labor is one that most directly causes conflicts with economic life, because children may need attention and aid at times when workers would normally be working for their employers. While most parenting can occur outside of the time a worker has sold to their employer, there are special occasions (such as injuries and illnesses, educational opportunities and cultural enrichment events) where parents may find their obligations to serve society by rearing their children (reproducing labor) conflict with their contractual obligations to their employer (to provide labor in exchange for their pay).  There are also sometimes duties children may have to parents that also conflict in this way, and since our society recognizes a sacred moral obligation of children toward their parents, there are times when caregiving duties to parents will also intrude on the economic relationships a person has with their employer.

The Family Medical Leave Act solves this problem of potential conflicts between filial obligations and obligations to an employer by promising people that they may suspend their work for their employer to work instead in the unpaid ways parents and children of elderly adults sometimes do, to care for those children or adults. But, the Family Medical Leave Act does not demand that anyone pay the person who suspends their relationship with their employer.  Society doesn’t take on the burden by paying the employer or absent employee some sort of compensation for the interruption to the provision of labor and compensation.  Society also doesn’t demand that the employer provide income while the worker is taking time away from economic life to tend to family obligations. 

If wages were generally adequate to cover the cost of reproduction of labor, workers could set aside a reasonable amount of savings to cover the loss of income during the inevitable days that income is lost when they take a leave to tend to sick children or incapacitated parents. However, for many people, wages are insufficient, and no savings are accumulated for this contingency, or for any other sudden financial strain.  Also, some families are afflicted with exceptionally long and costly disruptions to health, as when a child develops cancer and may need to remain in treatment for months or years, or when an elderly sibling or parent becomes so incapacitated that they require nearly constant support and aid.  Even if workers have set aside sufficient resources to normal life events such as occasional mild injuries or passing illnesses, these sort of catastrophic problems will interrupt income and security so much that bankruptcy could result, or at best, a family might need to sell its assets, exhaust its savings, and cut consumption to subsistence levels.

It seems wrong to demand of employers that they take all the responsibility for all the risk that their workers may face such demands outside of work.  This seems a very high burden for small business employers who may have very narrow profit margins.  It also seems unreasonable to put the entire burden on the workers.  The most equitable solution probably involves some mix of risk sharing in which workers and their employers both contribute to a fund to pay for their paid days away from their employers while they care for others, and everyone joins in paying a very small tax (contributing a modest premium) to a general social insurance scheme that protects employers and employees from the rare catastrophic health problems. 

If paid family leave is mandated, employers can simply set aside a percentage of a worker’s pay into an account that will be used to pay employees when they miss work for reasons allowed with a paid medical leave law.  If the worker never uses sick days or family care days, the money can be returned to the worker with interest. If a worker must leave the workplace for much longer than usual, some general social insurance scheme might provide income for a longer period of time such as a year or two.  

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