LGBTQ people need paid leave – and not just during the COVID pandemic

Caregivers have the right to guaranteed paid leave.

A recent survey revealed one in five LGBTQ people are afraid to request time off work to care for a loved one. Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Ty Cobb
Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives & Research, HRC
Matt Schaible
Senior Manager, Foundation Programs, HRC
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• The LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by the lack of national paid leave.

• Many LGBTQ people fear discrimination if they request time off.

• There have been isolated advances in individual company policies, but action is needed at national level.

Every year, millions of Americans make difficult decisions about their jobs when facing life’s most challenging moments and significant events, like deciding to take time off work to welcome a child, care for a loved one with a serious medical condition, or manage their own health. But unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, the United States does not guarantee some form of paid leave. As a result, too many Americans must take unpaid leave and are thrown into financial chaos, struggling to cover everyday expenses like groceries and rent without a steady income.

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Lack of access to paid family and medical leave has long-term economic effects for everyone, including lower labour force participation and reduced lifetime earnings as a result of the time taken out of work. In light of the coronavirus pandemic that has been ravaging our communities and workplaces, the need for a national and inclusive paid leave policy has become even clearer as Americans from all walks of life stay home from work to keep us all safe.

Lack of access to paid leave disproportionately impacts marginalized populations, including LGBTQ people. In Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 US LGBTQ Paid Leave Survey, one in five respondents reported that they would be afraid to request time off to care for a loved one because it might disclose their identity, and fewer than half of respondents found that their employer’s policies cover new parents of all genders equally.

LGBTQ people have many reasons for being reluctant to ask for leave.
LGBTQ people have many reasons for being reluctant to ask for leave. Image: HRC

Some companies, like MassMutual and Accenture, are innovating to ensure their paid leave policies are inclusive for all employees and families. MassMutual, for example, leaves it entirely up to employees to decide the meaning of loved ones. In the words of Dr. Claudia Coplein, MassMutual’s head of health and wellness: “Who are we to decide who an employee’s loved one is?” Another inclusive example is Accenture’s paid leave policy, which offers primary caregivers of all genders the opportunity to limit travel following the birth of adoption of a child, and provides “safety net” hours for back-up dependent care when regular childcare arrangements fall through. Forward-thinking policy advancements like these reflect important leadership and progress, but only a national paid leave policy will address these inequities, and guarantee that all Americans are entitled to paid leave, no matter where they work.

Paid leave is an LGBTQ and economic justice issue, and one the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been fighting to advance. In partnership with leading organizations like the National Partnership for Women and Families, we have lobbied US policy-makers and raised awareness of this critical issue by developing resources, creating informational videos, hosting webinars and more. Earlier this year, HRC President Alphonso David spoke to business leaders from around the world and made the case for inclusive paid leave policies during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos.

For years, HRC has advocated for paid leave to ensure folks have the ability to take time off work. This pandemic has only elevated the need for a permanent, national paid leave policy. Policy-makers recently recognized the importance of the issue, albeit on a temporary basis, by including it as part of the emergency federal response to COVID-19. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provided workers with up to 80 hours (10 days/two weeks) of paid sick time to address illness and caregiving needs associated with the coronavirus and/or closure of a child’s school. For longer-term childcare needs, the Families First Act provided up to 12 weeks of job-protected family leave for working parents whose child’s school or usual place of care is closed or unavailable. But we don’t just need access to paid leave during a pandemic. We need it permanently, following every other industrialized nation in the world, to ultimately make individuals, families and communities safer and healthier.


What is the Forum doing to boost inclusion for LGBTI people?

The coronavirus crisis has reiterated the fragility and inequality of our social fabric, and amplified the underlying need for a national paid leave policy. Businesses and policy-makers should recognize the importance of paid leave to create healthier workers, families, communities and a nation. LGBTQ Americans, and Americans from all walks of life, need permanent access to paid leave to face not only this emergency, but the challenging and significant events of everyday life: welcoming a new family member, dealing with a medical illness or caring for a loved one.

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