This morning on our final stop on this week's Take Control of Your Life Tour, we take the fight to Capitol Hill. One of the things you've e-mailed us about most is the strain of balancing work and home -- especially when your family needs you most: a new baby, caring for an elderly parent or coping with an illness.
The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles many workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with job protection. That has been a great service to some 60 million workers who've taken advantage of the law in their times of need. But a Department of Labor report in 2000 also found that some of the workers who needed the leave said they were unable to take it for financial reasons.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has introduced an upgrade of the existing Family and Medical Leave Act that would provide up to eight weeks of paid leave, which would be paid for through an insurance fund financed by employees and employers equally. A person earning $30,000 a year would pay a premium of about $11 a week. That same person would receive 75 percent of his or her salary for up to eight weeks of qualified time off.
What You Can Do
Make your voice heard. If you have elder care or child care demands or even your own health concerns that may require you to take some time off from work -- and you can't afford to do it without pay -- you must make your voice heard. And there's no better time than election season. If this issue matters to you, speak up.
Hold elected officials responsible. Let your legislators on a state and national level know that this is important to you. Every lawmaker has an e-mail address and a telephone comment line. Tell your legislator what you think.
Check out state laws. Find out what's happening in your state. California recently passed a paid leave program, and more states have bills pending. You may have options available to you through a state program. Let your state legislators know your opinions on a paid leave policy, too.
Make it a presidential issue. Let the presidential candidates know that your vote depends on their action on this issue. It's up to voters to make these issues a priority if we expect action.
Explore company policies. The government isn't the only source of possible relief. It's up to each of us to use our voice at work, too. Find out what's available at your company. There might be access to employee assistance programs and benefits that you're not aware of because you never needed them.
Approach your manager. Bosses tend to be more accommodating if they understand that your need for a leave is temporary. Create a plan that's a win-win and helps to avoid a lose-lose for both of you. For example, you can say, "Let's work together to create a win-win for both of us: I want to keep my job, and you don't want to go through the hassle and expense of losing me. So while I'm caring for my baby or my parent, let's come up with a temporary solution that works well for both of us."
Suggest alternatives. Even in the absence of formal policies, try suggesting creative solutions. Perhaps it's a prorated salary while you cut back on hours during your temporary leave. Maybe it's an advance on paid vacation or personal days even before they've been accrued. You might even offer to work from home, which saves you commuting time and allows you to set a work-home schedule that can satisfy your personal and professional needs for this period.
Let us help. Since this is a particularly challenging issue, and if you'd like our help in talking to your employer, click here to share your story. We may try to get involved with you and your boss to help forge a mutually beneficial solution.
Tory Johnson is the Workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com .