By Sarah Labadie, Associate Director of Policy, Women Employed
June 9, 2022
We’ve all been there. An unexpected life event occurs — a parent falls ill, a family member needs medical attention, or we have an accident that puts us out of commission — and we need time off from work. Some of us are lucky enough to have caring bosses and employers that build in paid time off for these types of events. But for many workers, mainly working low-paid jobs, paid leave is not an option.
America is the only developed nation in the world that does not guarantee workers paid leave. But we don’t have to live this way. Many states across the country are working to ensure this essential right for workers.
I just arrived back from Delaware, where the state legislature passed a paid leave law that creates a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program, becoming the 11th state to enact this important measure. We were also celebrating a similar win in Maryland.
These laws offer eligible workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave to address their own serious health condition, care for a family member with a serious health condition, bond and care for a new child, or address the impact of a family member’s military deployment.
In other words, workers in the 11 mainly coastal states that have enacted paid family and medical leave laws do not have to worry about missing paychecks or losing their jobs if they are faced with an unexpected life event.
There are no Midwestern states that have enacted a statewide paid leave law — yet. Illinois can and should be that state.
Illinois often leads the Midwest in passing laws protecting workers’ rights and civil rights. From increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour statewide to ensuring pregnant workers can continue working safely through their pregnancy, Illinois has responded to the needs of working people. Ensuring paid leave for all of our state’s workers should be on our list.
Given the impact of the pandemic on the workforce, now is the time. The pandemic has created an even wider gap between low-paid workers and the rest of the workforce.
According to the recently issued Illinois Future of Work Task Force Report: Illinois continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but recovery has been uneven. As of April, unemployment is down to 4.6 percent in Illinois, but that number is much higher for Black men and women (13.4 percent and 11.4 percent) compared to other groups, illustrating ongoing challenges with equity and job access.
At Women Employed, WE are helping to lead the charge for paid leave in Illinois with our Paid Family and Medical Leave Coalition, working with partners and advocates to make Illinois the 12th state to create a paid family and medical leave program.
Every single person experiences a life event that requires time away from work. Paid leave shouldn’t be the luck of the draw — it should be the law of the land.
Have you ever been forced to come back to work too soon after welcoming a child? Have you had to choose between caring for yourself or a sick family member or earning a paycheck? We’d love to hear from you! If you’d be willing to share your story, please visit womenemployed.org/share-your-story and fill out our form, or comment below, and we’ll contact you to learn more!