Harvard Report Decries U.S. Paid Time Off Policies

June 17, 2004 (PLANSPSONOR.com) - The "Land of the Free" offers no paid free time for workers to tend to family issues, but when measured against those nations with broader access to paid time off, is the United States' position all that bad?

Across the world, more than 160 countries offer guaranteed paid leave to women in connection with childbirth and the United States is not one of them.The U.S. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave to about half of all mothers and nothing for the rest, according to the Harvard School of Public Health’s (HSPH) report The Work, Family and Equity Index: Where Does the United States Stand Globally?

For fathers, the U.S. apparently lags behind as well. Forty-five countries ensure that fathers either receive paid paternity leave or have a right to paid paternity leave – rights not guaranteed to fathers in the U.S.

Additionally, for all workers at least 96 countries around the world provide for paid annual leave. Sadly, such assurances are not provided in the United States.

Global Watch

“The United States trails enormously far behind the rest of the world when it comes to legislation to protect the health and welfare of working families,” said Jody Heymann , a Harvard associate professor, in a news release announcing the study results. Joining Heymann in expressing concerns is AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “The Work, Family and Equity Index lays bare just how far behind the U.S. is when it comes to the most basic work and family issues, like paid parental leave,” Sweeny said in the release.

Sweeny also said the report should be considered a call to action. “Working families are deeply concerned about how to balance work and home, and this thorough study should raise alarm bells from coast to coast about how far our nation needs to come to meet their needs,” Sweeney said.

So who should the United States be looking up to? Topping the list of nations that offer the most parental leave, both paid and unpaid, per two parent families are Germany and the Czech Republic, which both offer in excess of 300 weeks (the report did not elaborate on the time frame of this time off). Also in the top 10 were Latvia, Uzbekistan, Lithuania, Belarus and Tajikistan, all of which offered in excess of 140 weeks.

Additionally, HSPH found the United States dead last among nations in the duration of paid leave. Highlighted on the graphical representation of this statistic is that “t he United States does not guarantee workers the right to paid annual leave,” and thus the U.S. offers zero weeks in this category. This is a far cry from those nations at the top of the list that offer a duration of paid annual leave of six weeks: Togo, Spain, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Madagascar, Guinea, France, Denmark, Comoros, Burkina Faso, Austria and Algeria.

These two findings were only a handful of statistics – five in all – presented in the report that offered a list of countries with better policies than the United States, whereas most of the report relied on such broad statistics as “More than half of all countries which provide paid leave to new mothers (84 out of 163) offer at least 14 weeks of paid leave; seventeen countries offer 20 weeks or more paid leave,”to get its message across. Further, the report chose only to highlight individual countries with unique paid time off plans as they fit the agenda, without providing a full list for comparison. For example, ” The only other countries studied which do not provide paid leave to mothers are: Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.” The study also made no mention of human rights violations and deplorable work conditions in many of the countries listed above the United States for various liberal paid time off plans.

Of course, left off of the press release, and most of the mainstream coverage of the report is where the United States excels. ” U.S. policy does well in guaranteeing rights to attend school and the right to work,” HSPH said in their report. The United States is one of only a handful of nations (48), studied by HSPH that prohibits discrimination in employment or wages based on age – Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967) – and one of only 64 nations that has anti discrimination legislation that protects the rights of the disabled in employment – Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The full 60-page report is available at www.globalworkingfamilies.org .