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DC Activists Aim to Offer Paid Leave to Parents


Rob and Jessica Lott enjoy spending time with their 11-month old daughter Shulie, June 10, 2016. (J. Taboh/VOA)

Rob and Jessica Lott enjoy spending time with their 11-month old daughter Shulie, June 10, 2016. (J. Taboh/VOA)

Working parents in America are increasingly sharing childcare. In other words, both mothers and fathers go to a business or office, and both take care of family members at home – especially babies.

But the U.S. does not require employers to pay workers while they take time off to care for new family members. It is the only developed country in the world that does not mandate some kind of paid parental leave.

Instead, working parents in the U.S. must negotiate for time off directly with their employers. But a few states, as well as Washington, D.C., are trying to change parental leave laws.

The Lott family

The Lott family in Washington, DC is one of many families advocating for the U.S. to change its parental leave policies.

Rob and Jessica Lott both have jobs outside the home. They also have a 12-month-old daughter named Shulie.

When Shulie was born last July, both Rob and Jessica looked forward to spending time with her. They also needed to take care of her, and Jessica had to recover from childbirth.

But Jessica’s employer offered her just four weeks of paid leave. Rob’s employer did not give him any.

Instead, Rob used his vacation and sick leave to care for his wife and daughter for two weeks. He noted that these kinds of paid time off are not the same as parental leave.
“Certainly, having a child is not vacation, nor is it a sickness,” he said.

Universal Paid Leave Act

Rob and Jessica Lott are part of a campaign to bring paid parental leave to all Americans, starting with those who live or work in Washington, DC.

Lawmakers here are considering a bill called the Universal Paid Leave Act. The act would require all businesses to give workers up to 16 weeks of paid time off to care for a family member or for themselves.

To cover the costs of the program, every employer would contribute 1% of each worker’s salary into a common pool of money.

Joanna Blotner is the manager of the D.C. Paid Family Leave campaign. She said the program does not hurt small businesses because it spreads costs across the entire workforce.

And, she said, businesses with fewer than 20 employees do not have to hold someone’s job while he or she is away from work. That employee will still be paid for the time off, but each employer can decide whether to fill the position before the worker returns.

Stronger families

Charles Allen is a local lawmaker and the father of a young child. He supports the legislation.

Allen listened to Jessica Lott and other parents share their stories around a conference table in his office.

“We know that families will be stronger when you have this [bill],” Allen told them. “The connection you get to have with your kid -- that just makes a stronger family.”

Cost and flexibility

But some people oppose D.C.’s family leave bill.

Marc Freedman works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said the bill would be too financially difficult for employers.

“Our feeling is that employers provide leave as they are able to provide leave,” Freedman said. “Many do so happily, and if they can't afford it, then that’s generally why they don’t provide it.”

In addition, Freedman says, he believes the program will be more expensive than activists are saying. And, he wants employees – not just businesses – to pay for part of the cost, too.

Freedman notes he does not have the perfect solution. But, he suggests that businesses should not be required to give employees paid time off. Instead, he says, businesses should be able to be flexible about what they offer, and to benefit from leave programs, too.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Julie Taboh wrote this story for VOA News. Jim Dresbach adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mandate – v. to officially demand or require

leave – n. a period of time when someone has special permission to be away from a job or from military service

negotiate – v. to discuss something formally in order to make an agreement

pool – n. an amount of money that has been collected from many people for some purpose

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