15-26 Segment 2: Paternity and Family Leave: Good for families, workers and the economy

 

Synopsis: Bringing a new baby into the home is a wonderful – and chaotic – experience, and it’s often made more chaotic when mom and dad have to rush back to work shortly after the child is born. Financial reasons and the stigma of staying home if you’re a man, keep parents away from their children at a time in their lives when they’re needed the most. We talk to an author – and a dad who fought for his rights – about why it’s important for employees to receive paid family leave to take care of new babies, sick relatives and elderly parents. He also explains why paid leave is good for business and the economy.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guest: Josh Levs, journalist, father of 3, author of the book, All In: How our work-first culture fails dads, families, and businesses – and how we can fix it together.

Links for more information:

Paternity and Family Leave: Why they benefit us all

Marty Peterson: When a new child is born into a family, there are a lot of changes that need to be made in the home – especially if the baby is the first. Mom has to recover from the birth, and she and the dad have to get used to feedings every few hours, crying at all hours, and that precious time that’s necessary to bond with the child in between. In these days of two-income households, though, there’s often little time to take care of all these changes in the home routine and do a productive day’s work at the office, restaurant or factory. Although mom might get some paid or unpaid maternity leave, dad more than likely won’t be staying home with the new baby to help out. Josh Levs thinks this needs to change. He’s a nationally recognized journalist, father of three and the author of the book, All In: How our work-first culture fails dads, families, and businesses – and how we can fix it together. Levs says that having dad at home is just as helpful and important as having mom there…

Joshua Levs: Once the baby is out of the womb, men are just as capable as women are of doing the things that are needed to take care of a child and it’s really important to make sure that families have choices. Men, when we take care of babies we what women do, aside from breastfeeding, so we can do feeding through bottles, and we do changing and holding and all the things around the clock that are required for a newborn. But a baby leaving the womb should have a parent at home with it for a bunch of weeks who doesn’t have to worry about putting food on the table. And what we need in this country are policies that will allow families to make choices about whether the mom will go back to work soon or the dad will go back to work soon or ideally to give each parent some time. So the mom can have recovery time at home, then when she goes back to work the dad can have some time. That’s the best way to do it.

 Peterson: Not only can men do all that needs to be done for the baby, being at home enriches both father and child in the long run…

Levs: That bonding time is absolutely essential between baby and parent, and it’s best when a child has bonding time – newborn child has bonding time – with each of its parents because that will last throughout a lifetime and changes the relationship. Also what happens is when men are home early on in a child’s life, they get a chance to do all of the primary caregiving activities, they get to do all the changing and feeding and all these other things and they become really confident about it and it becomes clear within their family that they’re just as capable as the mom is of doing these things. And then what happens is it creates a better balance for the kid’s entire life, a more egalitarian balance of responsibilities at home in general that lasts. And that’s really important too.

Peterson: Levs is advocating for more than just paternity leave. He says that employees should be able to take time off to care for a loved-one – and get paid for all or part of it …

Levs: It’s very rare in this country to have paid paternity leave, but most families can only afford paid leave. By law, under federal law, any man or woman is allowed to have a certain block of time unpaid, but that actually does not apply to about 40% of workers. So, it’s literally it’s not any man or woman. And these days only about 14% of companies offer any paid PA-ternity leave and unfortunately the amount of time being given to dads is going down, so things are going in the wrong direction.

Peterson: The reasons that not all workers are covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act — which allows up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for the care of any immediate family member — center around how they’re categorized by the companies they work for. Those who work fewer than 1250 hours in a year, or have worked for an employer fewer than 12 months, and people who work for a company with fewer than 50 employees don’t qualify. Levs says that many of those who are covered under the Act, however, still don’t take leave – paid or unpaid – because of the stigma involved in doing so…

Levs: I have examples of men in this book who took time off for caregiving and were punished for it. There’s one man who was a rock star at his law firm, but when he got back to work all of a sudden he was demoted and given many fewer work opportunities and then, ultimately, fired. And he said it was because he broke with his firm’s macho culture. I have another man who just missed a couple of days after his baby was born in an emergency, and when he got back to work his boss rebuked him – how dare he take that much time off. And that boss was a pregnant woman! I had people in the book that explain that these gender police who are trying to force men and women into these old Mad Men-era roles of who does what, sometimes they’re women as well. And so what we need to do is rise up against this backward way of thinking. And when we do that, when we make better policies for corporate America, businesses flourish and corporate America does better and the whole economy does better.

Peterson: Levs says men should start pushing for family leave. He did, and tells his own horror story about how he got into a bind with his employer, Time-Warner, when his premature baby was born…

Levs: I faced this extremely strange policy at Time-Warner under which it was caregiving leave which was separate from moms who gave birth and needed physical recovery time, obviously. Anyone could get 10 paid weeks to take care of a new child, unless that person impregnated his own wife. So if I had put my daughter up for adoption and some other guy adopted her at Time-Warner, he would get 10 paid weeks; or if we had used a surrogate, I would get 10 paid weeks. But because I was in this traditional situation, having impregnated my own wife, they could not wrap their minds around the idea that someone like me might possibly be a caregiver. And I was needed at home, there was a lot going on, I was needed. I had gone to Time-Warner in advance and I had said, look, I need the same leave that you give everyone else. I’m sure it was just an oversight. But instead of giving me an answer, they refused to give me an answer, and months went by and my daughter was born prematurely in an emergency, and still no answer from Time-Warner. And then 11 days later I’m home, holding my four-pound preemie, taking care of my sick wife and my two boys, and that’s when they said no.

Peterson: The answer seemed discriminatory to Levs, so he contacted his attorney…

Levs: I filed what’s called an EEOC charge; it’s a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When you face discrimination at work against a protected class like race or religion or gender, you have the right under federal law to file a complaint. So I filed a complaint for gender discrimination and that was the beginning of this process. And that’s why my book is called All In because as soon as I did that, I started hearing from all these women’s groups and men’s groups all over the country that were so supportive and from the Left and Right, and I realized that all of us who truly want equality are in the same boat. We’re all in this together. So anyway, so I filed that gender discrimination complaint and that was the beginning of the process. And I had certain protections that come along with that, you know? My attorney said to me, he said legally they’re not allowed to fire you when you file this complaint. They might anyway, it happens, but they’re not allowed to. So that’s the beginning of the process.

Peterson: As a result of his complaint, Time-Warner revolutionized its policy. Levs explains in the book how the complaint process works and the rights you have when it comes to gender discrimination. He says there is a solution to the problem which would work for everyone involved – employers, workers and family members – who needs paid leave, and it’s called the FAMILY Act…

Levs: There’s a bill that’s facing Congress right now called The Family Act. And this is the best thing that we have as an option right now. The way it works is the workers pay a tiny bit of money into the fund – it’s 20 cents for every 100 dollars you make. And when you need paid family leave, you get six weeks of a pretty good percentage of your pay. It’s based on what works in California and New Jersey and Rhode Island. And so the business is not paying you during that time. The business can pay you. The business is allowed to compete for you by offering above and beyond what the government offers. But, so the first way to have this is through national policy, like The Family Act, it’s a good way to go about it. Then, within businesses you can offer more, and I show what big and small businesses are doing – Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Bank of America, Deloitte, some small law firms around the country. Johnson & Johnson just increased their paid family leave for guys like me from one week to eight paid weeks.

Peterson: He says that corporations and even small businesses reap rewards when they get on the bandwagon of paid family leave…

Levs: In the states that have paid family leave programs right now, the overwhelming majority say it’s benefitting them and small businesses are even less likely to report any problems. And the first thing people need to know is the way paid family works, these laws, it’s not a requirement that the business pay you. It’s in fact kind of opposite. It’s an insurance program in which you pay a little money into this fund and when you need paid family leave for any reason, you get it. So business is actually not paying you. That said, more and more big businesses and small businesses are finding that they benefit from creating these programs on their own, even outside of the government. And I have a business in my book that’s an 18-employee business in Boston and they had decided to give their employees three months of paid family leave when they have a new child. And that might sound crazy to some small business owners, but what this business found is when they started offering that, they’d attract and retain the highest-quality employees and they don’t lose their employees. It has been a tremendous success for them. So they’re saying it worked for them. But I want to emphasize, I’m not saying that there should be a law requiring businesses to do this. There should be a law that allows the whole country to do what people I certain states can do right now: a fund that allows you to have paid time off because you pay a little bit of money into that fund in the first place.

Peterson: The world is changing, and more men want to be home with their newborns, and others need to be home to take care of sick family members of all ages. Levs says it’s up to younger people to move the ball forward and fight for this issue…

Levs: I have a daughter and two sons. I know that if my generation does not fix this, my kids will not have equal opportunities. They will enter the workforce someday like my generation did, and they will find that there’s still no gender equality because our structures are still pushing women to stay home and pushing men to stay at work, and that will still be bad for the economy. I do believe that our generation can fix this and that’s why this book is called All In. We are all in this together. All the differences – Left, Right, gender, socio-economic differences – they all fall to the wayside when you take a look at the steps that we can take together to tackle this problem and build a stronger country, stronger businesses, stronger economy, stronger families. I truly believe that we can get this done and it’s up to our generation of parents. We have to. And the time is now.

Peterson: Levs says it’s up to all of us to contact members of Congress and let them know how we feel about the FAMILY Act bill being considered on Capitol Hill. For an in-depth look at the issue of family leave, and how paying employees when they need the time at home helps business, pick up Josh Lev’s book, All In, available in stores and online. He also invites listeners to visit his website josh l-e-v-s.com. For information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpoints online.net. You can find archives of past programs there, as well as on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.

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