Tomorrow, the Labor Department will issue a new ruling clarifying that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows “individuals who are the non-legal, non biological parents of their same-sex partner’s children” to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a sick child. The move is one in a longer list of changes that will explicitly extend benefits to gays and lesbian Americans, but some gay activists have dismissed the advances as inadequate. The AP ran a story titled, ‘Obama inches toward gay agenda,’ describing the change as “[t]he little things that the Beltway crowd pays attention to.”
But as Pat Garofalo explains, the problem isn’t that guaranteed unpaid sick leave is inadequate because it’s not ENDA or DADT. It’s inadequate because it only really benefits those who can afford to take days off without being paid for them:
Lack of paid leave not only means sick employees coming in to work, but sick children being sent to school by parents who can’t afford to take time off to care for them. In fact, according to a new survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago “nearly twice as many workers without paid sick days (24 percent) have sent a sick child to school or daycare than workers with paid sick days (14 percent).” 16 percent of those polled “say they have lost a job for taking time off from work to care for a sick child or family member, or to cope with their own illness.”
“This new survey shows conclusively that our nation is paying a high price for not allowing workers to earn paid sick days,” said Deborah Leff, president of the Public Welfare Foundation. “It demonstrates that not having paid sick days drives up the costs of health care and causes more people to go to work sick, creating public health risks for everyone.” In order to rectify this situation, Congress could pass the Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee seven paid sick days to all employees at firms with more than 15 employees, which could also be used to care for sick children or family members.
The real benefits of sick leave won’t be felt by everyone until this country joins every other industrialized nation and mandates paid sick leave. Unfortunately, by framing this exclusively as an LGBT equality issue, and viewing it through the prism of the broader LGBT ‘agenda,’ we avoid that important conversation.