Closing The Gap

National Women's Law Center expands legal services to help workers secure coronavirus-related paid leave

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As states across the country announce their plans for reopening businesses, many working parents are left with the difficult, and in some cases impossible, task of finding alternative child care as schools and day-care centers remain closed due to the pandemic. 

To help individuals secure the caregiving leave they need, the National Women's Law Center recently announced that their Legal Network for Gender Equity has added a new service to assist eligible workers with receiving paid time off as it relates to the coronavirus. 

In March, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required U.S. employers with 50-500 employees to provide two weeks of emergency paid sick days to workers who need to care for themselves or a family member who is sick from Covid-19. The bill also required employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to workers who need to quarantine or care for a child due to day-care centers and schools being closed. Though this bill was intended to help millions of families cope with the pandemic's impact, nearly half of Americans say they've heard very little or nothing at all about these leave benefits, according to a survey by Morning Consult for The New York Times

Additionally, just 28% of business leaders that are covered by this new law say they are taking advantage of it. Sharyn Tejani, director of the NWLC's Legal Network for Gender Equity, says that with more employees being called back into work, it is critical for individuals to know about the paid leave they have access to. 

Working mom at home
Crience | Twenty20

"Workers are being put in an impossible situation at this point with trying to decide between taking care of their children and going to work and they have to do both," she tells CNBC Make It. "So, this leave hopefully will help with that and that's why it's really important that the word gets out about it and that the workers who have access to it get it."

To take advantage of the NWLC's offering, Tejani says workers can fill out an online form to request legal assistance. From there, the individual will be given the name of three attorneys within the organization's network who are all willing to give a first consultation for free. During that consultation, the individual will find out if they are eligible for paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and if so, how they can go about receiving it if their employer is giving them trouble. Afterwards, Tejani says, the individual will then decide if they need further paid legal support in order to access their protected time off. Though this service is open to all workers who want to know their rights to paid leave, she says it is likely that women will benefit the most from this assistance. 

"We know that part of the paid leave and paid sick days is for caring for yourself and the other part is for caring for your family members and for when your school and child care are closed," says Tejani. "And, we know that that's going to fall more heavily on women because caregiving usually does."

In addition to women carrying the brunt of caregiving responsibilities, she explains that women also make up nearly two-thirds of the more than 22.2 million people who work in the 40 lowest-paying jobs in the country, with many of them lacking access to paid-leave benefits. Of the women in these low-paying roles who are mothers, 69% say they are the sole or primary breadwinner for their family, according to NWLC data.

"Women's salaries are necessary to families," Tejani says. "It's not like all women can quit work and stay home, because their families have to eat." 

With the United States being the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee employees paid family leave, Tejani says she hopes the pandemic will lead lawmakers to think more seriously about the need for both paid leave and paid sick days for all workers beyond the employees who are covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expires at the end of this year. 

"It is very, very clear that workers cannot function without having some safety net of paid leave and paid sick days because families get sick and they have to take care of themselves," she said.

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