Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When Workers Double as Parents and Vice Versa

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When Workers Double as Parents and Vice Versa

Article excerpt

WHEN Tina Miller-Silverman, a flight attendant for USAir Shuttle, refused to work an extra shift last year because her 6-year-old son was suddenly ill, the airline fired her. Bad weather had caused flight delays, and managers needed overtime help. But Ms. Miller-Silverman faced a dilemma too: Her husband had already left for work, and their baby sitter couldn't stay longer.

Last month Miller-Silverman won a victory for herself and her family when an arbitration panel ruled that the firing was unfair. It ordered the airline to reinstate her, giving her back pay and restoring her seniority.

Her situation illustrates the classic tug between the legitimate needs of employers and the equally legitimate needs of working parents. It's also the kind of case that highlights the importance of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives workers unpaid, job-protected time off to care for a new baby or an ill family member.

This month marks the second anniversary of that measure. Early studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that the law is working well. Nearly half of companies responding to a Conference Board survey say it has improved employees' ability to handle family needs. And three-quarters of the Fortune 500 companies responding to another survey state that the law has had either no impact or a positive impact on their productivity. Almost a quarter also find it has enhanced employee morale.

But don't spend too much time celebrating - yet. Corporate America is making progress, but many companies still lack truly enlightened approaches. Politicians can pass laws, but they can't legislate the attitudes of managers or co-workers who resent having to take on additional work during a colleague's absence.

Resistance to such time off can be measured in part by the history of the law itself. The first congressional hearings on parental leave took place in the fall of 1985. Initially the measure called for 18 weeks of time off for family care-giving needs. …

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