The Work/Life Balance – Are There Employment Laws That Protect It?
For any working parent, it’s hard to maintain the coveted work/life balance. It doesn’t matter if you manage a fast food restaurant or a multi-billion dollar corporation – the ability to fit everything you need to in a 24-hour day is harder than ever before.
The majority of companies don’t make the struggle any easier. Employees are working more hours than ever before thanks to a constant connection to work through email and texts. The flex time and telecommuting that were part of doing business 10 years ago are slowly disintegrating – even Yahoo! eliminated its long-standing telecommuting policy last year. Companies are also requiring employees to work more hours in order to be more competitive in this tight economy.
Today, couples with children work 10 hours more per week than they did in 1977. In addition, Americans work 500 more hours a year than our European counterparts, and we rank 28th among developed nations in terms of work-life balance.
As Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO stated, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”
The few laws that are on the side of employees
Although establishing a work/life balance is good for business – it makes workers more productive and more loyal – there are few laws that protect the policy. The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave. In fact, only 23 percent of employers offer covered family leave.
In addition, employees are often disciplined for making the decision to start and focus on their families. For instance, the Hastings College of the Law found “many pregnant blue-collar workers are fired every year ‘for not being allowed to carry a water bottle, for needing more bathroom breaks, for requiring larger bulletproof vests.’”
In another instance, claims of pregnancy discrimination against Bloomberg were dismissed after the judge found there was little evidence in the case although the company had a “pattern and practice” of demoting, harassing and firing mothers and mothers-to-be.
Currently, there is only a handful of laws that offer protection to families. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects mothers against pregnancy discrimination. In addition, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees who have worked more than a year for a company that employs more than 50 people can take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to bond with their newborn or care for a sick child.
But other than that, there’s nothing more that ensures parents are able to spend time with their families. A mother who is not covered by FMLA can lose her job if she takes off following the birth of her baby. A father can be demoted or refused a promotion if he needs flex time to attend his child’s sports activities. This rigid business policy eventually hurts a company – when an employee can’t find a balance and leaves for a competitor, that employer loses a valuable worker.
While there’s little workers can do legally to find a balance at this point in time, it’s important that they are aware of the rights they do have. If you are nonexempt from FMLA and need time to spend with a sick child or your newborn, you are entitled to take that time without being punished. But until any work/life laws are enacted, finding flexibility in your career is a personal and professional decision and one you will need to determine with your employer.