But many states do absolutely nothing to make life any easier for them, according to a new report from the National Partnership for Women & Families. The report flunks 12 states with an F grade because they haven’t passed a single law or instituted a single program to help working parents.
There are national policies that help some parents no matter what state they live in. The Family and Medical Leave Act, for one, ensures eligible workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the arrival of a new child or to care for a serious illness and guarantees they will have a job to come back to. But first workers have to be covered — and thanks to the fact that only those who work at companies with 50 or more employees or those who have been with their employers for at least a year qualify, 41 percent of the workforce misses out completely. Meanwhile, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act should in theory give pregnant workers protection from discrimination but many are still getting fired or discriminated against, while the provision in the Affordable Care Act giving women the right to pump breast milk at work excludes many workers.
New parents in the 12 states that haven’t lifted a finger to go beyond these laws and close some of the loopholes — Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming — can therefore find themselves exposed when trying to balance their work with caring for their children. Women may find themselves let go from jobs because of their pregnancies, or new parents may find they can’t take any time off to be with their infants or sick kids.
The good news is that many other states have galloped ahead to improve their policies. Over the last two years between the current report and the previous one in 2014, 11 states and Washington, D.C. passed new laws to help working parents. Notably, New York State passed a paid family leave program that will go into effect in 2018, becoming the fourth state in the country to do so, while California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont passed paid sick days, joining Connecticut. Pregnancy accommodation laws, which require employers to make small changes for pregnant workers so they can stay on the job, were passed in Colorado, Delaware, D.C., Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Utah, bringing the total to 16 states.
These laws have already had effects. Thanks to the fives states and dozens of cities that have passed paid sick leave requirements, a record share of Americans have access to the benefit. Millions will be able to take paid family leave after New York’s program begins.
Still, no state in the country earns a top grade from the National Partnership. California is at the top with an A, but the organization argues even it could improve its laws by adding protections to its paid family leave law so workers don’t risk their jobs when they take time off. Only two others get anywhere close, with New York and D.C. earning an A-.
The huge variation in support for working parents depending on what state they live in makes being able to balance work and children a bit of a geographic lottery. Federal laws, on the other hand, could ensure equitable treatment for all parents no matter where they live. And some lawmakers have sought to pass such laws. Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced both a paid family leave bill and a paid sick leave bill multiple times, but they haven’t moved ahead. They’ve also introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill that would require companies to make accommodations so that pregnant women can keep working. It hasn’t even gotten a hearing, but Republican Senators did sign on as co-sponsors for the first time ever last year.