People Need Paid Leave For Human Reasons

Family Values @ Work
3 min readFeb 27, 2024
Red figure represents a person balance work and personal life responisibilites.

Amy Purvis recovers at home from a bout with a chronic illness. It’s time away from work that she might not have needed if she’d had access to paid leave.

At the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by former President Bill Clinton, Amy talks about the times she needed to be away from work. On both occasions she and her family struggled because she wasn’t paid. According to FMLA, workers are allowed up to 12 weeks of leave from work to recover from a serious illness, to bond after the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a sick loved one. Few workers are prepared for time away from work without pay. The worker’s job is protected during the leave time, but the leave is unpaid.

“I’ve needed it (FMLA) twice, she said. “The first time was when my son was born.”

Before her son was born, Amy had prepared for time away from work by saving up her vacation days. She wanted to avoid a substantial impact on her family’s finances. Yet, by the time her son was born, she’d only accrued 8 weeks of vacation. After using that paid time, she continued her leave for one more unpaid month. For Amy, going back to work at 8 weeks wasn’t an option.

“It’s constant care,” she said of taking care of an infant. “Sleep is interrupted. Meals are interrupted. It’s impossible to add on work.”

While she was away from work, she was struck by the way her leave time was bandled based on the way she chose to have her son. Because of her chronic illness, she and her doctor didn’t want to risk the possible impact of hormonal changes with pregnancy. Amy and her husband decided to look at other options for having a child. As a result, one of Amy’s co-workers served as a surrogate or gestational carrier. Because the co-worker had a medical procedure in giving birth, she was given six weeks of paid leave. Amy used vacation days and got her FMLA time off, but was not offered paid leave.

Amy reluctantly went back to work at the end of her leave time to work grueling twelve-hour shifts. Her demanding job left little time to spend with her son. Missing out on this crucial bonding time with her son is something she still regrets.

“The entire burden was on my husband,” she said. “My son (who is now a two-year-old) still prefers my husband.”

The second time she needed leave time was for her health. Unfortunately, at the time she was working at a job with no benefits. Her doctor documented her need for leave time, but there were no FMLA benefits attached to her job, meaning her job was not protected or held for her while she’s recovering at home. She also doesn’t qualify for other forms of government assistance for chronically ill and disabled people.

In the future, Amy hopes for the implementation of paid time away from work that isn’t tied to a particular job or a spouse’s income. She said that if she’d had access to this kind of financial help a year ago that she wouldn’t have pushed through her chronic illness to continue working. She believes that she became much more ill than necessary because she needed the income from her job.

“People need leave for human reasons, but there’s no human element in it,” she said. “They only cared about when I could return to work. I don’t exist to work. I exist to be a good mom.”

Amy is an activist with the Workers’ Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center, a member of the FV@W Network.

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Family Values @ Work

27 state coalitions working to win for Paid Sick Days, Paid Leave and other policies that value families at work in your city, county and state, then nation.