A Call to Change Our Work Rules

A new issue brief, "Free Riding on Families: Why the American Workplace Needs to Change and How to Do It," says it is time to change U.S. policies so they'll support the vital unpaid work of caregivers.

A new issue brief noted by the Workplace Prof Blog argues the laws and regulations governing American workplaces are out of step with the way Americans actually work today, specifically in how the unpaid work of caring for families (a job performed mostly by women) is not supported by current policies. The work of educating and caring for the next generation and caring for the elderly should be more valued in a country where politicians are apt to tout their strong support for family values.

"Free Riding on Families: Why the American Workplace Needs to Change and How to Do It" is written by Phoebe Taubman, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center in New York City. The richly footnoted brief has been distributed by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy in Washington, D.C. The blog posted a summary and link to the document on Dec. 21.

"In the United States, motherhood is the single biggest risk factor for poverty among women in old age," Taubman writes in it. "For every two years a woman is out of the workforce, her earnings fall 11%, and this 'mommy penalty' stays with her for the rest of her life." Families also suffer economically from the lost earnings of highly qualified women who leave the workforce to care for family, "only to find it difficult to return and resume their careers," she adds.

The brief notes that most countries guarantee paid sick leave, and the European Union in 1997 ordered its member states to eliminate discrimination against part-time workers and improve the quality of part-time work. The United States does not guarantee sick leave, and U.S. labor and employment laws routinely exclude part-time workers from their coverage, she notes.

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