Magazine article Risk Management

Grappling with Family Leave Legislation

Magazine article Risk Management

Grappling with Family Leave Legislation

Article excerpt

A REVOLUTION IS brewing in the offices, plants and factories of the United States. Once dominated by white males, today's American workplace is rapidly becoming more heterogeneous as increasing numbers of women, minorities and older workers swell the ranks of U.S. organizations. For both single working parents and dual working couples, family issues and benefits are gaining in importance. According to a recent survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 87 percent of responding companies report that their employees are increasing their demands for family benefits.

These sweeping demographic changes have prompted many U.S. corporations to adopt policies designed to meet the needs of this diverse work force. "U.S. companies have been very creative at designing benefit packages such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), eldercare plans and corporate funding for day-care programs," said Charles Boylan, managing director at William M. Mercer Inc., at the recent Mercer International Conference on Human Resource Issues in a Global Economy held in New York.

However, some observers argue that corporate America is not doing enough in these areas, particularly in creating adequate family leave provisions. This perception may be compounded by President Bush's recent veto of a family leave bill that would have required large companies to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth, adoption, a parent's or spouse's sickness, or any other family emergency. And although a number of states and local communities have passed family leave laws, many of these laws are local or statewide in jurisdiction, resulting in a bewildering patchwork of legislation that serves only to confuse both employers and employees alike.

Nevertheless, risk managers who administer their companies' benefits programs must keep in mind that the family leave issue will remain an important one for U.S. workers. With an increasing number of women entering the work force, federal family leave legislation presently in limbo, and a prevailing dearth of consistent state laws, risk managers must continue to help their companies devise innovative family-friendly plans for America's rapidly changing work force.

The Worldwide Scene

TO OBTAIN A clear picture of this issue, risk managers may find it profitable to compare the types of family benefits offered in other countries. In addition, risk managers whose organizations are setting up operations overseas can also learn about the governmental requirements in these other nations. "Many other countries regard family leave benefits as very important," stated Kathleen Weslock, a New York-based international human resources management consultant who spoke at the Mercer conference.

Cultural factors play a significant role in determining how a particular country perceives family benefits, Ms. Weslock noted. "A big reason why family leave issues in the United States have largely been left up to the determination of employers and employees is because of our culture of rugged individualism. U.S. programs tend to be pragmatic, reflecting an 'every person for him- or herself'- attitude."

However, it would be erroneous to conclude that U.S. firms have neglected family leave issues. The survey that was conducted by The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans indicates that 64 percent of respondents have either added benefits or modified existing ones. …

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