The state of Indiana is one of a dozen that received a near failing grade on a recent report analyzing states’ paid leave policies.
The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee any form of paid time off for family or medical reasons.
Some states are passing their own laws to support working families, but Indiana isn’t among them.
Taking Time Off To Care For a Newborn
Every moment Emily Wickersham spends with her daughter is one she cherishes. Today they’re sitting on the living room floor beating on some of Rosalyn’s favorite drums.
Rosalyn is Wickersham’s first child and she’s only 10 months old. It wasn’t until Wickersham got pregnant that she started looking into her employer’s family leave policies. She teaches at the Monroe County Community School Corporation.
“By state law — all of the state employees that are full-time employees — we can take up to a year off and keep our position, keep our place,” Wickersham says. “But we can take 12 weeks leave.”
But that isn’t paid time off, which presents a problem for many working families.
Wickersham says she’s lucky – she was able to use a combination of paid days off and days from a sick bank she contributes to in order to cover her maternity leave. It meant only three of the 12 weeks she stayed home with Rosalyn were unpaid.
“I was really glad to even to get 12 weeks because I can’t imagine how we could have bonded, and also for my body to recover and for the baby to be in this world,” Wickersham says. “I mean everything is so new. I know people who go back to work after two weeks, and I just can’t imagine.”
Federal, State Laws Provide Little Support
For many families, there’s no other choice.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides some protections, but only unpaid time off.
And it only covers about 60 percent of workers.
“It requires employers of a certain size to provide some of their employees with unpaid job-protected time when they have a new child or need to care for a seriously-ill loved one or deal with their own serious health condition,” says Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
The National Partnership for Women and Children releases an annual report and assigns each state a grade based on whether they’ve adopted their own, more generous paid leave policies.
Indiana scored a D minus. The only factor that helped the state’s score is its laws regarding nursing mothers. Among other things, the law requires employers with more than 25 workers to provide a private space other than a bathroom stall for nursing mothers to pump breast milk.
Indiana is among a dozen states that got a nearly failing grade.
“That means Indiana does not provide paid family leave, unlike a few other states in the country,” Shabo says. “It doesn’t provide paid sick days as a handful of other states do. It doesn’t do anything more in terms of providing unpaid, job-protected time to new parents or even other family members, as many other states do.”
Critics of mandatory paid leave policies say they’re a financial burden to businesses.
In its 2016 legislative business agenda, the Indiana Chamber says it opposes any expansion of FMLA at the state or federal level, “such as lowering the employee threshold, providing paid leave through use of funds from Indiana’s Unemployment Trust Fund or through a new tax on employers.”
“In other states the plans are employee-sponsored. So employees pay a couple of dollars a week and they receive the benefits.”
But Erin Macey, a policy analyst with the Indiana Institute for Working Families, says that stance is misguided.
She says businesses that do provide paid leave policies reap several benefits.
“They get reduced employee turnover, they get high buy-in from their employees,” Macey says. “They get high morale. You see bigger companies that can kind of afford to spread out that leave taking.”
California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have laws offering paid family leave. New York will soon join that group.
And Macey says there are a number of ways Indiana could start similar programs.
“We did have legislation that was heard in committee last session to offer a voluntary system of paid family and medical leave that employers could buy into,” she says. “In other states the plans are employee-sponsored. So employees pay a couple of dollars a week and they receive the benefits.”
Back in Wickersham’s Bloomington home, it’s clear how important spending quality time with Rosalyn is to the dedicated mom.
She’s hopeful federal and state legislators will put aside politics and give other parents the same chance.
Where Do The Presidential Candidates Stand?
The issue of paid leave is one that came up earlier this summer during both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Hillary Clinton says if she’s elected she will champion the effort to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. She plans to pay for the policy with tax reforms.
And Donald Trump’s plan includes six weeks of paid leave for working mothers, which will be covered by expanding unemployment insurance.