By Liam Miranda
In the 25-plus years since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law, millions of Americans have been able to take unpaid time off from work to manage significant life events. But FMLA alone is not enough. The U.S. remains the only developed country in the world without some form of guaranteed paid leave. Many employees — including those working in small businesses or part-time — are ineligible to take FMLA leave. Moreover, because FMLA leave is unpaid, even those who are eligible to take time off often cannot afford to do so.
The lack of inclusive and comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave hits marginalized communities particularly hard, especially people of color, LGBTQ people, women and those at the intersection of these identities who face significant economic barriers. At the Human Rights Campaign, we’re working to mobilize our community and educate our allies about the ways in which LGBTQ people are uniquely at risk without the support of paid family and medical leave. In February 2018, we released results from the 2018 U.S. LGBTQ Paid Leave Survey, exploring how over 5,400 LGBTQ working people are experiencing parental, family care and medical leave.
This research confirmed that LGBTQ people face heightened barriers to accessing leave — including unique medical needs, unequal relationship recognition and unjust employment discrimination. Employer policies for welcoming a child still routinely exclude LGBTQ families: only 48 percent of respondents report that their employer’s policies cover new parents of all genders equally, while just 49 percent say that the policies are equally inclusive of the many ways families can welcome a child — including childbirth, adoption, or foster care.
LGBTQ people also face unique barriers when requesting time off to care for their own medical needs. Though 50 percent of respondents have previously taken medical leave — a figure that rises to 65 percent among those over the age of 50 — many still do not have access to paid time off. Furthermore, those who requested leave for HIV-related treatment and transgender-specific care faced adverse treatment from colleagues or even lost their jobs.
“My boss treats me differently than other employees in the office because of my sexual orientation. He knows I’m bisexual and has repeatedly told me that he does not agree with my ‘way of life,’” wrote a survey respondent from the South. “Every time I’ve requested leave, I’ve been denied. When I tried to take time off to go to doctor’s appointments to help manage my HIV, I was repeatedly denied and eventually had to take unpaid days. He denied me again when I wanted to welcome a child with my wife. Even when I asked for a small amount of time off to care for my grandmother who was receiving treatment for cancer, I was denied. He never once told me why. It’s not just me — my coworker requested only a week off for gender confirmation surgery, and she was denied.”
This respondent finishes her story by writing, “We have a right to this time.” Inclusive paid family and medical leave policies are long overdue — over 90 percent of respondents say they believe the U.S. should guarantee paid leave for all Americans. Meanwhile, 92 percent of respondents report that access to paid leave would positively impact their lives and 82 percent say it would make them feel more supported at work. Our community is ready and eager to continue working with partners as we push for federal paid leave policies that support our collective well-being and truly reflect the diversity of families across the country.
For more information about this critical issue, read the full 2018 U.S. LGBTQ Paid Leave Survey report here.
Liam Miranda is a proud transgender man and former student-athlete passionate about combining cutting-edge research with advocacy to galvanize social change. Liam is currently the Senior Research Manager at the Human Rights Campaign where he leads research projects that help shape and strengthen the HRC Foundation’s public education and programmatic work.