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After health crises rocked her family, this VP is calling for companies to rethink paid sick and family leave

"Though I am proud to be part of an organization that is leading by example when it comes to family and sick leave, I know from firsthand experience this level of support is not normal," Blackfynn's Samantha Glasberg wrote after her son was born prematurely.

The first time Samantha Glasberg's daughter met her baby brother, a month after he was born. (Courtesy photo)
This is a guest post by Samantha Glasberg, VP of people and culture at Blackfynn. It originally appeared on LinkedIn and is republished here with permission.

Editor’s note: This story was written and first published by the author in May 2021. is republishing it now amid the reemergence of national discussion of paid family policy (or lack thereof).

This week is my first week back at Blackfynn after taking an extended leave of absence to care for myself and my children.

As a people ops leader, I have always pushed for generous and equitable leave policies and have been fortunate enough in recent years to partner with leaders that have enabled me to do so. That said, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more recently, my personal experience navigating a family health crisis, has forced me to reflect upon the state of paid family and sick leave in our country. Here are my thoughts.

On Jan. 11, my son was born prematurely at 33 weeks. His early arrival was very unexpected. Though he was generally healthy, he struggled to eat and breathe on his own, as most babies do when born at that age. It would take 29 days, a team of wonderful doctors and nurses, and around-the-clock care in the NICU to help him become strong enough to come home. As if this situation wasn’t difficult enough for my family, less than a week after delivering my son, I was readmitted to the hospital and diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia, a serious postpartum complication. Though these weeks and those that immediately followed were some tough weeks for our family, we are thankful to be able to say that both my son and I are doing well today.

Despite this rollercoaster of an experience, my husband and I know how lucky we were. Not because both my son and I made full recovery. That wasn’t luck. We know to thank science, nurses, and doctors for that.

No, we were lucky because I was employed by an organization that provided me with access to support systems, such as paid family and sick leave. My leave was fully paid (12 weeks). My manager supported me in using this benefit to the maximum and also encouraged me to take additional time to care for myself and family if needed. The pathetic reality is: Only 19% of all workers in the US have access to paid family and sick leave. Most don’t have access to paid leave, let alone job-protected leave (Family and Medical Leave Act), leaving them unable to risk taking any leave (paid or unpaid) at all.

Though I am proud to be part of an organization that is leading by example when it comes to family and sick leave, I know from firsthand experience this level of support is not normal.

Though I am proud to be part of an organization that is leading by example when it comes to family and sick leave, I know from firsthand experience this level of support is not normal.

My husband is a registered nurse at a hospital in a large, local healthcare system. The support systems in place at this institution are surprisingly lamentable across the board — from overall policy to on the ground support for employees. It took my husband over a week to connect with someone in HR to discuss his options. Once he did, he was shocked to learn that he did not have access to paid family leave. His accumulated paid sick leave could only be used for a personal sickness or injury.

So, with both his wife and infant son hospitalized and a 2-year old to care for at home, my husband’s only option was to apply for FMLA, to deplete the small amount of PTO he had accumulated (which was MUCH smaller than usual due to COVID-19 cuts in 2020) and to then take unpaid leave. He’s worked there full-time for 6 years;  include his previous per diem experience and it’s 10.

In the end, we quickly decided that he would continue to work while both my son and I were in the hospital. We knew that we could only afford for him to take a few weeks of unpaid leave and that he would need to do so when our premature son came home. I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself, a toddler and a premature baby on my own. We also knew he could check in on us during his breaks since we were staying at the hospital where he worked and that our nanny could continue to care for our daughter (and that nearby family could help fill the gaps).

Though we made peace with this decision at the time, as the peak of fight or flight passed, we became increasingly frustrated with our experience. How could the best option for our family also include having my husband continue to work while half of his family was hospitalized?

The lack of access to support systems, affordable childcare, and paid protected family and sick leave in the US hurts all working families. That said, it hurts working women more. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven this. Over the past year, one in four women have considered leaving the workforce. Millions of women have gone on to actually do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic only exposed the largely inadequate and inequitable support systems available to working women and families.

As disappointed and frustrated as we were with our experience, we were fortunate that my organization (and manager) supported me emotionally and financially. We were fortunate to have in-home childcare for our daughter during my postpartum hospitalization. We were fortunate to be able to afford for my husband to take unpaid leave and to have his job protected by FMLA.

Most working people are not as fortunate as we were. The COVID-19 pandemic only exposed the largely inadequate and inequitable support systems available to working women and families. Make no mistake though — they have been lacking for a while.

In the absence of policy at the federal level, organizations have remained largely, if not solely responsible for providing access and support in the form of livable wages, flexibility, and paid sick and family leave in recent years. Many organizations have opted out of the conversation entirely. Others have offered support that is insufficient at best. Regardless, the conflict of interest here is obvious. And the impact on the workforce is far too real.

Having said this, as a country, we are at an inflection point and the data is clear. We can no longer wait for policy and support to arrive at the federal level. Without the implementation of new progressive family and sick leave policies, the US will soon face a workforce crisis and its effects will be longstanding. It will stifle our economic recovery and overall growth. Working women, families, and communities, especially those of color, will suffer. We must take action and we must do so now.

Founders. Executives. People leaders. I implore you — revisit your organization’s sick and family leave programs. Prioritize supporting working women and families. Access to paid sick and family leave should not be a luxury — it must be a basic right. Our economy and the creation of an equitable workforce for all depend upon it.

Companies: Blackfynn

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