Study: LGBT Workers Caught in Gap Between Work, Family

by Sasha Razumikhin

South Florida Gay News

Thursday December 12, 2013

When a child is born to or adopted by an LGBT worker (or workers), one thing's for sure: It's damn hard to get time off.

So says a new study brief from the Movement Advancement Project, the Center for American Progress and by the Human Rights Campaign (in partnership with A Better Balance, Family Values at Work and the National Partnership for Women & Families). It's called An Impossible Choice: LGBT Workers and Family Leave Laws.

"From time to time, workers may need extended leave due to the birth or adoption of a child, a serious illness or injury, or to provide care for a family member with a serious health condition," the brief reads. "The US is one of the few developed nations lacking mandatory paid parental, sick, or family leave for workers. Currently, federal law provides limited, unpaid job-protected leave for eligible employees."

But time needs to be taken. And when LGBT workers and their families have to make a choice, what should they do? Staying at work means not being there for the kids (to heal and nurture, to love and to upbring). Staying home means losing the job, looking for another, thousands of dollars down the drain.

"When taking leave due to medical or family needs, far too many LGBT workers risk losing their jobs and jeopardizing their financial security at a critical juncture in their lives," said Jared Make, senior staff attorney at A Better Balance. "But the alternative-not taking time off during a personal illness, a child's birth or adoption, or a family member's serious illness-could mean getting sicker or not being there for loved ones who need them. No one should ever be put in that position."

But people are very much put into that position. There are about 5.4 million LGBT workers in the U.S. They're racially and ethnically diverse and they live all over the country. And MAP's previous research shows that 37 percent of LGBT people have had a child at some point.

"LGBT workers should have the same access to job-protected leave as their coworkers," said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP. "Federal and state leave laws should be expanded to give all workers, including LGBT workers, the opportunity to take paid leave to care for themselves or their loved ones. Asking LGBT workers to make an impossible choice between losing a job and taking care of themselves or their families is unfair and harmful to families."

So what needs to be done? Here are some possible solutions straight from the brief:

Recognize the Families of All LGBT Americans

States should allow same-sex couples to marry and ensure that parentage laws allow LGBT parents to be legally recognized as parents. In addition, the federal government should clarify that the FMLA covers all legally married same-sex couples, even if the couple lives in a state that does not recognize their marriage.

Provide Equal Access to Individual and Family Medical Leave

Congress should revise the Family Medical Leave Act to broaden the definition of covered caregivers to ensure that employees can take leave to care for a domestic partner or same-sex partner. States also should pass family leave laws inclusive of same-sex couples. In addition, federal and state medical leave laws should be clarified to make certain that transgender workers can take needed individual medical leave.

Ban Public and Private Employment Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/ Expression

Congress should pass federal legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Expand FMLA to Cover More Workers and Make Federal and State Paid Family and Medical Leave Available for All Working Families

Congress should amend the FMLA to allow more workers to qualify. Currently, the FMLA does not cover workers in businesses with fewer than 50 employees or any workers who have not worked for 1,250 hours in the past year at the same job. Congress should reduce the minimum number of employees and the minimum number of months worked to broaden eligibility. Congress should also create a National Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program that would allow workers to receive a portion of their pay while they take a limited amount of time away from work.

Create a Right to Paid Sick Days

Congress should follow the lead of several cities and states by guaranteeing workers a right to paid sick days for their own routine illness or health care need or to care for a loved one.

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