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BREASTFEEDING AND THE WORKPLACE: NY LAWS ROUNDING THE CURVE

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by Bonnie Rosenstock

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Four years ago, Laurie Fett, a vice president at the midtown Manhattan office of the cable network, Showtime, was in Ray Gutierrez’s office when the telephone rang. His executive assistant, Elaine Reda, took the call. It was from an employee who had recently returned to work after giving birth, and she wanted permission from Gutierrez, executive vice president of human resources, to use the handicapped bathroom so she could express milk. “Elaine and I said we couldn’t have her pumping on the toilet bowl. The boss said, ‘What do you need?’ Within days we had a room,” says Fett. Now Showtime’s “mother’s room” can accommodate four women at a time, in two warmly-decorated rooms of two private cubicles each, furnished with comfortable chairs, nursing stools, television, videos and educational material, and state-of-the-art equipment for pumping and transporting breast milk. “We’re really proud of the mother’s room,” Fett says. “There’s one here and one in Los Angeles, although New York was the first.” Showtime’s parent company, Viacom, as well as its MTV affiliate, also provide a mother’s room in their New York headquarters. The laws in California require a pumping room. “We’re doing it in New York out of supporting mothers, not because we need to comply with the law. We thought it was the right thing to do,” she says. Although many forward-looking companies might agree that it’s the right thing to do, at present, only six states — Minnesota (which was the first), Tennessee, Illinois, Connecticut, California and Hawaii — require employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time and a private room or other location (other than a toilet stall) to an employee who needs to express milk. Another six states by law encourage it, and two states — Washington and Texas — provide incentives to encourage employers to accommodate breastfeeding mothers. Women with infants and toddlers are the fastest growing segment of today’s labor force, and at least 50 percent of women who are employed when they become pregnant return to work by the time their children are 3 months old. (Fett herself stopped breastfeeding when she made the decision to return to work about six months before the breakthrough phone call). Although the 1978 federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, courts have not always interpreted “related condition” to include breastfeeding, even though the intent of the law was to include it, contends Elizabeth N. Baldwin, J.D., a leading expert on breastfeeding and the law and a legal advisor to La Leche League International. She cites the New York City case of a breastfeeding mom who brought a lawsuit against NBC (Martinez v. NBC, Inc.), in the summer of 2001, for workplace discrimination. The federal court dismissed it on the first motion, ruling that it is not discrimination to treat women differently from other women, but only differently from men. Wal-Mart, in Ohio, relied on this decision to get a similar case dismissed. These two cases are far from unique. As documented by La Leche and other breastfeeding advocates, many women have been fired or discriminated against for expressing milk during the day; some have been harassed on the job, or had their pay docked because they used their regular breaks or lunchtime to pump milk; and some have purchased breast pumps that were painful, ineffective, or damaging. “All we’re talking about is adding one word — ‘breastfeeding’ — to the law because it’s not specifically stated. If you don’t lay it out, it can be interpreted in any way,” Baldwin says. “If Rep. Maloney’s bill were law, this wouldn’t have been dismissed.” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D), of the14th district, which includes most of the East Side, portions of the West Side, and Astoria and Long Island City in Queens, is a leading congressional proponent of a woman’s decision to breastfeed. In 1998, she introduced a comprehensive bill called the New Mother’s Breastfeeding Promotion and Protection Act (H.R.3531, 105th Congress), that supported breastfeeding by new mothers and encouraged employers to support workplace lactation programs. One of the provisions, allowing states to spend more money on breastfeeding promotion and support through the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, made it into law. In 1999, Rep. Maloney introduced four individual bills. Only one, the Right to Breastfeed Act (H.R.1848, 106th Congress), to ensure a woman’s right to breastfeed her child anywhere on federal property where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be, became law in September 1999, as part of the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill (H.R.2490). Rep. Maloney’s bill, the Breastfeeding Promotion Act (H.R.285), to which Elizabeth Baldwin refers, was introduced in the current 107th Congress. The purposes of the act, according to Rep. Maloney’s position paper, are “to promote the health and well-being of infants whose mothers return to the workplace after childbirth, and to clarify that breastfeeding and expressing breast milk in the workplace are protected conduct under the amendment made by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.” The bill would (1) amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breastfeeding by new mothers; (2) provide for a performance standard for breast pumps. It requires the Food and Drug Administration to develop minimum quality standards to ensure that products on the market are safe, efficient, effective and sanitary, in addition to providing full and complete information concerning breast pump equipment; (3) provide tax incentives for businesses that establish private, safe lactation areas in the workplace or otherwise promote a lactation-friendly work environment; and (4) allow breastfeeding equipment and services to be tax-deductible medical care expenses for families. “The real goal of the law is to increase the rate of breastfeeding,” Baldwin says. “This is an important health choice for baby and mother if we can get them to breastfeed longer.” The bill is in committee and won’t likely pass in this Congress, according to an aide to Rep. Maloney. She promises to reintroduce it in the 108th Congress. “Sometimes it takes a while before a good law gets passed,” the aide adds. New York has instituted several landmark laws regarding breastfeeding. In 1984, it became the first state in the nation to enact any breastfeeding legislation, an amendment to the indecent exposure statute, which exempts a woman who is breastfeeding an infant (Penal Law 245.01). New York is also one of the few states that allow a mother to have her breastfed baby in prison with her under certain circumstances. In 1994, the state passed a law guaranteeing a mother the right to breastfeed her baby in any place she has the right to be, public or private, even if the nipple is exposed during or incidental to breastfeeding (NY Civil Rights Law section 79-e). “To this day, it’s the absolute best law in the nation,” says the Miami-based Baldwin, “because it’s a violation of their civil rights.” However, due to ignorance of its existence, breastfeeding women are still subject to ejection from many premises. This September, as reported in the New York Post, a security guard ejected a woman who was trying to nurse her child in an empty reading room of the New York Public Library. “The guard made a mistake. She had not confronted the situation before and was not properly educated about the rules,” Michael Zavelle, the library’s senior vice president told the Post. On March 15, 2001, New York State Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, of the 116th Assembly District, in upstate New York, introduced an act to add an amendment to the current labor law (section 206-c), similar to the laws enacted in Minnesota and the other five states, noting that state and federal court cases have gone against the right of an employee to express breast milk at work with adequate facilities. “Nursing mothers are a critical part of the workforce and deserve to be treated fairly. As a state representative and working mother, I have personal knowledge of an instance in which a constituent was unjustly treated as a result of her need to express breast milk at her work site. It is time that we have a law on the books which prevents discrimination,” she states. Patricia A. Eddington, 3rd Assembly District in Suffolk, and Michael Cohen, 28th Assembly District in Forest Hills, co-sponsored the bill. Assemblywoman Destito’s legislation swiftly and unanimously passed the Assembly on April 23 — and died in labor; that is, it never made it out of the Senate Labor Committee. She reintroduced it, and it once again passed the Assembly on March 4, 2002. It was delivered to the Senate the same day, referred to the Labor Committee and still remains there today. “It’s another example of the inefficient way that Albany works,” says Brian Sogol, legislative aide to State Sen. Thomas K. Duane of District 27 in Manhattan. “This is one more bill that is stalled. It’s not for lack of support. It’s an anachronistic system that needs reforming. It doesn’t serve the public well.” While these bills in Albany and Washington are stuck in political limbo, mother-friendly companies like Showtime are reaping the benefits. About three years ago, a woman whom Gutierrez was interviewing asked if there was a place for her to express milk. “She was also being sought after by other companies, but she was so impressed by what she saw that she chose us,” Fett relates. “She said this was the kind of company she wanted to work for.”

Resources: • Each year the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHBC) publishes its list of “Workplace Models of Excellence”, which acknowledges family-friendly employers. To assist employees with young children, HMHBC offers “Working and Breastfeeding-Can You Do It? Yes, You Can!” Call (703) 836-6110, or visit [email protected]

• In October, Working Mother Magazine compiled its 2002 list of “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers”, www.workingmother.com.

• La Leche League International has a wealth of information on breastfeeding issues at www.lalecheleague.org.

• Avent, the breast pump company, offers a comprehensive breastfeeding guide; call 1-800-54-AVENT or visit www.aventamerica.com.

Maternity Leave: The Slow Move Forward By Barbra Williams Cosentino, R.N., C.S.W.

Every mom is a working mother — but not all moms who worked outside the home prior to having children have paychecks coming in during those first exhausting weeks or months when they are at home caring for their new babies. According to Betty Holcomb, author of the recent The Best Friend’s Guide to Maternity Leave, there are many misconceptions and ambiguities surrounding the issues of career and motherhood. During the transition to new parenthood, she says, women are faced with the need to balance the intersection of work and family life, which entails juggling a multitude of financial and emotional factors. “Although women make the assumption that they will be eligible for ‘maternity leave', many are shocked to find out that they are not entitled to full pay, or, in some cases, to any pay, after their baby is born. Most women piece together a combination of short-term disability payments, sick time, vacation time and personal leave, if they have it, to stretch their leave out as long as they possibly can, and to maximize the amount of money coming in," Holcomb says. The government offers some help, but it is not nearly as extensive as it is in many other countries, where there is paid maternity and/or paternity leave — enabling new parents to take some time off to adjust to the demands of their precious new tax deduction. In Italy, women are given 20 weeks of maternity leave at 100 percent pay; whereas in Norway, new moms are entitled to an amazing 52 weeks off at 80-percen salary. Passed in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has helped more than 35 million Americans to take time off to care for their loved ones including newborns, adopted children, and seriously ill family members, without jeopardizing their jobs. FMLA has some limitations — only covering employers with 50 or more workers. To be eligible for FMLA job protected leave, an employee must have been working for the same employer for at least one year, and had to have put in at least 1,250 hours, the equivalent of 25 hours a week for 50 weeks. People who work at a company with multiple sites must have at least 50 co-workers working within 75 miles of their work-site. To get the federal leave, the employer must be given 30 days advance notice, in writing, and some companies require a doctor's note. If all these requirements are met, a woman is entitled to at least 12 weeks off after giving birth or adopting a baby, with the guarantee of returning to one's old job or an equivalent position. The leave is unpaid, but the employer must continue health insurance and other benefits during this time. The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that women who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees are entitled to be treated like any other disabled employee, meaning that they must be given a medical leave, usually six to eight weeks, to recover from labor and delivery. If health and retirement benefits continue for other disabled workers, they must be continued for those on leave for childbirth. Holcomb says that New York City has the best pregnancy discrimination law in the country, with companies having as few as five workers mandated to abide by the city's Pregnancy Discrimination Ordinance. New York is also one of five states that require that employers buy disability policies that cover pregnancy and childbirth, guaranteeing that new mothers will receive at least a partial paycheck for six to eight weeks. But, because the provisions of FMLA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act cover time off without pay, many people with a new baby or a family medical crisis are simply unable to stay home for an adequate period of time. The National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to promoting workplace equality, quality health care and policies which help Americans to better balance the demands of work and family, is spearheading the Campaign for Family Leave Benefits — a groundbreaking campaign, launched in 1999, whose goals include increasing public awareness of economic and time issues facing working parents and making family and medical leave more affordable. The September 2002 passage of California Senate Bill 1661 (SB 1551), the first comprehensive paid family leave law to be approved by any state, was "a giant step in helping America become a more family-friendly nation,” says Judith L. Lichtman, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. The new law, which becomes operative on January 1, 2004, and covers leaves that begin on or after July 1, 2004, expands California's disability insurance program to provide up to six weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off to care for a new baby or a seriously ill family member. To finance the program, employees will contribute an average of less than $3 every month, while there is no cost to employers. During 2001 and 2002, legislation was introduced in 28 states — including New York, Washington and Massachusetts — that would grant pay to employees taking time off to care for newborns and newly adopted children, and five states have passed bills requiring the state legislatures to research the costs of providing paid leave. The plight of New York City's working families is finally being recognized, with proposed legislation attempting to amend or enhance current laws to allow greater numbers of employees to receive temporary disability benefits and/or unemployment insurance when they take family or medical leave. Other proposals are aimed at extending FMLA coverage to part-time employees and those working for mid-sized companies who employ 25 (rather than 50) workers.

Taking Maternity Leave: Some Strategies Reader-friendly and informative, The Best Friend's Guide to Maternity Leave, by Betty Holcomb (Perseus Publishing, 2001) covers everything you've ever wanted to know and more — how to speak with your boss about your pregnancy; understanding your rights; keeping your finger on the pulse of your workplace when you're out on leave; surviving those first few weeks with baby; deciding about child care; and getting back to work. It's chock-full of useful tips, such as what Holcomb calls the three cardinal rules for negotiating your maternity leave: — Ask for the maximum time your employer allows. — Push for more time by suggesting possibilities such as part-time work, job-sharing, or doing some work at home for a while. — Start the leave before the baby is born. Many companies allow women to start maternity leave two weeks before their due date — to rest up mentally and physically for the changes ahead. Holcomb specifically addresses the issue of how to handle yourself at work once you discover you're pregnant. Because maternity leave is "still a loaded issue,” she advises not speaking with someone in the human resources department initially, but instead, informally networking with other women who have children to find out how the company treats its pregnant and parenting female employees. Offering advice to moms on maternity leave who need to keep in touch with their boss and their workplace, Holcomb suggests: "Be in charge of all communications, and never answer an unexpected call." Take advantage of all technology — email, answering machines, voice mail, which allows you to control the time of day (perhaps when your partner is home, or when a babysitter is available) when you speak to colleagues or supervisors. Planning work-related phone calls gives a new mom the best shot at having an intelligent conversation uninterrupted by the sounds of either an enthusiastically gurgling baby, or, even worse, a colicky, frantic, shrieking one. The initial return to work after maternity leave can be difficult, says Holcomb, who explains that feeling torn between work and baby is part of the process of coming to terms with the fact that you are now moving on to a new life as a working mother. Working moms eventually get better at compartmentalizing and at getting back into the work routine, but, at the beginning, she says, "It can feel like your coworkers are inhabiting a different world where everyone speaks Swahili while you speak only Russian and Chinese." Holcomb emphasizes that the first week back is the hardest, and urges new moms to be good to themselves, using cleaning help, takeout meals and anything else that will ease the transition from "mom at home" to "mom at work”. Tactics she recommends to help in the back-to-work transition include: · Getting the baby on a sleep schedule the week before you return to work. · Find out about any changes at work and what will be expected of you before your first day back. · Start back to work on a Wednesday or Thursday, so you can collapse on the weekend. · Get organized, and allow yourself extra time for everything.

"There are no neat formulas for being a parent," says Holcomb. "Pregnancy and new parenthood are a period of time in which everything is called into question. Although new mothers may be tempted to make precipitous decisions about their career and lifestyle, the weeks surrounding childbirth, maternity leave and going back to work are not a time when major decisions should be made. Women should give themselves plenty of time to get to know their wonderful new babies and to adjust to all the changes that come along with being a new mom."

On the corporate ladder, Childcare Still Gets Bottom Rung Yet 72 percent of absenteeism related to childcare issues

By Beth Buetens

Allison Pearson's novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, is on The New York Times Best-Seller's List and has resonated with working mothers. Childcare issues are featured prominently in this new work of fiction, but they are not fictional problems in the real world. Roughly 13 million children under the age of 6 have parents in the workforce, according to a 1998 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. Forty-three million children in America live in families in which both parents work. With so many parents in the workforce, you'd think that corporate America would take an interest in childcare problems. But here are the facts: as of 1997, only 11 percent of parents were working for employers operating or sponsoring an on-site or nearby childcare facility. And only 13 percent of employers provide some sort of financial assistance to help pay for childcare costs, according to the Families and Work Institute. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the government does not require an employer to provide childcare, even though the Department of Labor states that childcare is a top concern for families and that childcare costs represent an important component of family income. But maybe corporate America will be interested in this: businesses are losing $1.2 billion a year due to childcare-related absenteeism, and have a higher rate of turnover and lower productivity when parents have inadequate childcare arrangements, according to the Child Care Action Campaign. Maurice Wingate is the founder of E-Dependent Care. His company offers work/life benefits and childcare solutions for employers and employees. He believes that corporations are finally taking a look at the statistics that show that absenteeism due to childcare-related issues is costing them money. "The corporate mentality was that the woman stayed home. Childcare is an issue that is dealt within the home and it doesn't affect the bottom line of the corporation. But now it's been proven. The Department of Labor has found that 72 percent of absenteeism is related to childcare issues. There's always a reason why someone's going to leave early, or is trying to find daycare. They're dealing with it on the job. Now that these statistics are out, you can actually prove to a company that this is affecting their bottom line." He believes that companies can offer a variety of solutions when it comes to childcare. Employers can match what you pay for daycare or in-home care, offer discounts or even subsidize it. Employers can get as aggressive and involved in childcare issues as they want to be. In New York City, some companies may not want to have on-site daycare centers because of the lack of available space and for liability reasons. If that's the case, companies can outsource or lease space from daycare centers that are already established. "There's no reason why corporations shouldn't outsource to a daycare company and buy some space, if the liability issues are a problem. There are always plenty of other alternatives," says Wingate. Stacey Gibson is director of the Work/Life and Diversity department at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. She believes that work/life benefits have been an important recruitment and retention tool for them, especially among newer employees. And in terms of business, childcare benefits have definitely impacted absenteeism and productivity. "We have a strong position on childcare issues. What we've done is a corporate approach to balancing work and personal and family responsibilities." Bristol-Myers Squibb won the Caring Corporation Award from the Child Care Action Campaign in 2000. The corporation has three on-site daycare centers, one in Connecticut and two in New Jersey with a fourth under construction. Each center services approximately 200 children from as little as eight weeks old to school age children, and offers primary care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers; full kindergarten programs; and school holiday and summer vacation programs. There's no on-site daycare center in New York City, but that's only because it wasn't asked for. "We have only 200 employees in New York City. There wasn't a critical mass, or the age demographics. It's an older group. But we would have certainly explored it if it were needed," says Gibson. However, Bristol-Myers Squibb does offer back-up childcare at a daycare center across the street. "We purchased space in that center and employees who don't have childcare can use that center and it's 90 percent subsidized. Back-up care is important in New York City," echoes Gibson. Wingate's company was the first to offer emergency back-up childcare in New York City. "The core of work/life benefits, the most profound issue facing employees is how do I deal with my child while I go to work? How do I do both? How do I take care of my child and go to work at the same time?" asks Wingate. Any working parent will tell you it's not an easy thing to do. Emily Kozyra, communications associate for the Child Care Action Campaign, thinks that parents are more productive and miss fewer days when they know that their children are in quality care. In other words, parents are better employees when their employers address their childcare needs and concerns. "Employers are asking more of employees, especially with this bad economy. Parents who know that their children are okay can focus on the task at hand. It allows them to focus while they're at work," says Kozyra.

So what can workers do to get their employers interested in their work/life juggling acts? Wingate suggests contacting the human resources or benefits department at your job, and asking about work/life benefits. Be your own advocate and pass the "Employee Needs Assessment" out to your co-workers. You can find it on his website, www.edependentcare.net. The anonymous survey asks how many days were missed due to childcare issues and if a daycare center nearby or on-site would help solve that problem. "Employees call us, and then we can call the human resource department and act as the mouthpiece. After looking at the survey, we can tell employers how much money they're losing by not providing childcare benefits, and if it's financially in their best interest to do it. Usually there are tax breaks on it. Sometimes there are so many reasons why a corporation should do it that it's almost illogical for them not to. Most think it's an expensive thing, and it's not. It's usually a turn on an investment scenario," says Wingate. And if you want to show your bosses and fellow employees examples of childcare work/life benefits in action, tell them about companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb. "The key to our success is that we've stuck with it. It's not a fad. We recognized there's a bottom line business issue to it, and put the resources behind it. Workers out there who are trying to do everything — have a fulfilling professional life and a fulfilling personal life — can't do it alone. Any company that doesn't get that is really going to miss the boat," says Gibson.

The Workplace Wish List Author suggests tax breaks, career breaks, and getting dads involved

In the first couple of years after giving birth to her first daughter, Julie Shields experienced both intense joy and intense frustration. "Slowly it dawned on me that my husband and I couldn’t have it all at the same time — two vibrant careers, a functional family existence, and the best situation for our daughter and ourselves." She began interviewing parents, marital counselors, childcare workers, negotiation and work-life experts, employers, and child development experts to find out how to create a true family balance. The result is the recently published HOW TO AVOID THE MOMMY TRAP: A Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making It Work (Capital Books, $26.95) — described by Shields as a guide for those who want to break out of traditional roles and find their own personalized approach to life after parenting. Part of the problem, Shields says, is an American work system that is not family-friendly. "Among industrialized countries, the United States ranks second to last in terms of national maternity, paternity and parental leave, and child care policies. The combination of federal inaction, old expectations, poor quality of available child care, and time demands at work give women a big shove into the Mommy Trap," she says. "We have a crisis on our hands that will certainly haunt us in the future if we do not address it now. In our current system, many American parents do not feel as if they have a wide range of choices. The system in this country needs an overhaul. Too often it prevents mothers and fathers from making their best family effort." Shields points out that in the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) represents the only national policy that gives new parents any kind of time to care for their children and still have a job when they return. FMLA grants 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid parental leave for new mothers and fathers who work for companies with 50 or more employees, to be used in the year after a baby’s birth. Employers can and do require employees to use all of their accumulated vacation and sick leave before taking FMLA. "This policy tends to get women back to work sooner rather than later, without allowing them to feel competent at home, bond for long with their babies, or hold out for the best child care arrangement. It also tends to force expectant mothers to work until the last minute, and to keep both fathers and lower-income parents from taking any leave at all." Shields herself left her office to go out to lunch on the day her daughter was born, and gave birth nine hours later. In her book, Shields offers solutions to make American employers more family-friendly:

—Affirmative Action To Get Men Involved A tax credit for part-time or stay-at-home parents of children ages three and younger, limited to those with upper-middle class incomes and below, would help those who can use it the most. Adding a tax credit and saving on child care expenses will help part-time incomes go further, facilitating more family time. And providing a double credit for men during the first 10 years of the policy would give them much-needed societal approval to cut back at work, rather than continuing to provide income no matter what the costs to their family life.

—Longer and Paid Maternity Leave. We should push for paid and longer maternity leaves, believes Shields, emphasizing the needs of a changed workforce, and the costs employers must absorb when they lose trained employees who cannot meet all of their responsibilities at home and at work. "Forcing women to take sick and vacation leave for getting pregnant and having babies is wrong. Society benefits from and could not continue without women having babies. Society also benefits if parents do childrearing, right and pays the costs if parents do childrearing badly."

—Longer and Paid Paternity Leave. "We should push for 10 days of paid paternity leave. Society benefits when fathers bond with their infants, participate in childrearing, and help their wives recover while temporarily disabled. The federal government should provide incentives to employers whose employees make use of paid paternity leave."

—Longer and Paid Parental Leave. In addition to paid maternity leave, many European countries provide parental leave that enable parents to spend time with and care for young children without jeopardizing their careers — up to 15 months of paid time off. "We need to start educating the American public about the benefits of parental care for small children, and the realities of substitute care in this country," Shields says. "We can start by seeking unpaid parental leaves beyond the 12 weeks afforded by FMLA. Providing unpaid parental leaves of up to a year costs less than paying the turnover costs of hiring and training new employees."

—Career Breaks. Career breaks are also common in Europe and are being increasingly instituted here by a few progressive Fortune 100 companies such as IBM. Career breaks allow either parent to take two years off after the birth of a child, with some minimal training in keeping skills current — and then return to his or her job, at a similar level of pay and responsibility.

—Pro-rated Part-Time Benefits. One of the largest stumbling blocks for couples who want to reduce their workforce participation is the accompanying loss of benefits — particularly health and life insurance. "A federal law mandating pro-rated benefits for part-time workers working 20 or more hours a week would make the choice of part-time work more attractive for parents and others who have responsibilities or outside interests they want to pursue."

—Tax Credit for Flexible Employers. "The government should provide tax incentives to employers when their workers use family-friendly policies such as part-time work, flextime, work-at-home, parental leave, career breaks, and time-shifting, with extra credit when fathers make use of such policies." Non-parents can also benefit from these policies, which would help change the focus in our workplace from "face-time" to production and results.

—Breast Pumping Hour. In light of the vast benefits of breastfeeding, employers ought to make it easier for women to express milk at work. A policy allowing a breastfeeding hour for the first year of life would be relatively easy and not costly to implement. "In an ideal world, employers could provide breast pumps in a nursing room, which could also contain a small refrigerator for the storage of expressed milk. We could require businesses to provide a nursing room by passing city and town ordinances mandating commercial developers to include them in their new buildings. Unions could also demand an accommodation for nursing. The benefits of breastfeeding include reduced parental absences to tend sick babies, a benefit to the employer, and possibly better health of both mother and child, a benefit to society."

—Day Care Standards and On Site Daycare. Good substitute care is hard to find, regardless of price. "Parents need to have better information about what makes for good care, and to ask for quality services when they do not occur." Shields recommends the government accredit and regulate childcare providers, and offer tax incentives to employers to maintain on-site daycare and early learning centers. With on-site care, children don’t have to go up to 12 hours without seeing a parent, and parents can better monitor the quality of care.

"Today, moms and dads have more life possibilities than ever before. We can create a world in which mothers and fathers find satisfaction inside and outside the home, and in each other. And a key part of creating that world, which is sorely lacking at the moment, are family-friendly working environments."

Julie Shields graduated from Duke Law School, and litigated in the intellectual property field for a Los Angeles corporate law firm for a number of years. After spending three years at home on career break, she resumed the practice of trademark law at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). At the PTO she has advocated successfully for more flexible part-time work schedules. Julie is spearheading an effort to improve American parental leave options.

 


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