FMLA is 22...Now Manufacturers Should Consider Paid Sick Leave

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Today, there a record 67.5 million American women in the workforce.

And many of those women - a full four in 10 - are now either the sole or primary earner supporting their families.

But, despite these changing workforce dynamics, most American women still clock in for a "second shift" when they leave work and return home. Research shows that even women with partners at home shoulder more of the responsibility for housework and child care.

These statistics are especially relevant for working mothers who, too often, are forced to make the difficult choice to stay home with a sick child and make the call (or send the email) informing bosses and colleagues that they won't be in the office.

recent survey from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health showed that one-third of working parents with young children find it difficult to take time off from work to care for a sick child because they worry they may lose pay or lose their jobs.

The Family Medical Leave Act - which celebrates its 22nd birthday today - offers a limited measure of comfort on the question of losing a job. Because of this law, passed in 1993 during the Clinton Administration, many working parents receive protected unpaid time off to deal with illness and other medial issues.

But 22 years later, this leave remains unpaid in most places and most jobs.

Statistics from the Institute for Women's Policy Research show that more than 40% of American adults working in the private sector do not have paid sick leave.  For these people, the choice to stay home is the choice to miss pay. 

The Obama Administration has announced the intention to call on Congress to require companies to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave a year.  The Administration is taking this approach because, to date, only a handful of cities and states have passed their own measures to guarantee that security to local employees.

Paid leave policies could be a valuable component for bringing more workers - espeically women workers - to the manufacturing sector. 

President Obama recently said that the U.S. manufacturing sector is leading the way in putting Americans back to work.  "After a decade of decline," he said, "American manufacturing is in its best stretch of job growth since the 1990s."

But the industry continues to struggle with recruiting qualified workers.  With estimates showing that 600,000 skills jobs remain open in the manufacturing sector and that more jobs will open in the near future due to the aging workforce, the time is right for manufacturing to focus on ways to recruit new talent.

We recently released a survery of women working in manufacturing and young women who are just beginning their career search.  Our data showed that over 40% of young women entering the workforce today are looking for careers with flexible working practices.  By contrast, women currently working in the sector offered mixed feedback about whether manufacturing meets those needs.  Overall, responses tended to be positive on the evolution of the flexible workplace, but negative on the speed of making those changes.

As we move forward to addressing the skills gap in manufacturing, industry leaders should look at the issue of paid sick leave as one way to attract a valuable group of new employees - hard working women.