Something historic just happened in my home state of Connecticut. The Connecticut General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees committee moved forward a bill that would create a state-wide system of paid family and medical leave, with bipartisan support.
This incredible accomplishment reinforces that paid family leave is not a partisan issue, it's a family issue. Both Democrats and Republicans tout that they support family values, and what's more central to family values than allowing workers to care for their families while maintaining their economic security?
When the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in the early '90s, that was a historic moment too. But as time went on it became clear that FMLA has not kept up with current workforce needs. Many people aren't eligible for FMLA and for those who are, most can't take it because it's unpaid. That means that too many people are struggling to care for a new baby, a sick loved one, an aging parent, an injured service member or for their own critical illness.
According to Merriam-Webster, family values are defined as "values which are held to promote the sound functioning of the family and to strengthen the fabric of society." How can a family function when a child gets cancer and his/her parents don't have paid time off from work to be with their child when they're needed the most? How can a family function when they welcome a new baby into their lives but are forced back to work without enough paid time off to truly bond with their child? How can a family function when a mother is juggling caring for her elderly parent and dependent child while working full-time with no paid time off?
To truly "strengthen the fabric of society" policies that support family values in the workplace are critical. If we want to have strong, vibrant families and thriving, competitive businesses, it makes sense to provide workers with paid family and medical leave. When workers know that they will have the time they need to care for their families in a time of joy or a time of sorrow and hardship, they are more productive and less stressed at work.
Happy, supported employees mean better outcomes for businesses and for families. Paid family leave is a moral issue that, in Connecticut, appeals to legislators on both sides of the aisle. It was a proud moment to see both Democrats and Republicans voting for legislation that would immeasurably help families in the state to be successful, both at work and at home.
Michelle Noehren is the Events & Special Projects Director at the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.