There’s no denying that just about every American — LGBTQ or not — will one day have to call their boss and tell them they can’t come in. Maybe they have to undergo cancer treatments. Perhaps an aging parent has had a medical emergency and is in the hospital. Or maybe they’re calling to tell their boss that they just went into labor and will be having a child. Whatever the reason, they’ll be largely dependent on the will of their employer when it comes to whether they get paid.
The United States lags far behind other industrialized countries when it comes to paid medical leave. And we are the only industrialized country to offer no paid family leave to working adults (for example, leave that would allow an employee to take care of a sick family member or welcome a new child). But despite the universal challenges resulting from our country’s lack of paid leave, LGBTQ people in the United States are uniquely impacted. And new research out from the Center for American Progress (CAP) backs that up.
According to CAP, 42 percent of LGBTQ people say they’ve needed to take time off work to care for a chosen family member — compared to 31 percent of non-LGBTQ people. And that’s just those who have taken time off, even considering many were not paid. Not only are we more likely to take time off work, but we’re more vulnerable to the lack of paid leave.
Consider that seven-in-ten LGBTQ Americans live in states that lack a family leave law or have a law that only allows leave for workers who have a biological or legal relationship with the child. LGBTQ couples raising children are also twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to their non-LGBTQ peers — and single LGBTQ people are three times more likely to live near the poverty threshold as their non-LGBTQ peers.
Without explicit federal laws protecting us from being fired simply because of who we are, LGBTQ workers also remain at risk of being fired if we’re forced to come out when requesting leave.
Medical leave is especially important to LGBTQ people. Think about transgender people pursuing transition-related care or people living with HIV and AIDS. While people living with HIV are no more likely to request medical leave than workers without HIV, they will be impacted more acutely by an inability to access leave. And for the transgender worker, lack of explicit federal law protecting them from discrimination can make the request devastatingly costly in more ways than one.
There is good news. More and more policy leaders are working to address the gaps at the state and even federal level. And more and more companies are recognizing that providing paid leave isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s good for their businesses.
As organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, CAP, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Women’s Law Center and Paid Leave for the United States continue to push for more inclusive leave policies, it’s important for LGBTQ people to recognize the myriad ways in which we’re impacted by this country’s lack of paid leave — and to demand better.
By Mary Beth Maxwell, Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Training, HRC Foundation
Visit HRC’s website to learn more about LGBTQ Community and Paid Family and Medical Leave.
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