More family-friendly policies on the horizon?
But the FMLA is just one piece of the puzzle, and workplace advocates like Williams and Bravo say more must be done. The FMLA only provides for unpaid leave, so even if you need leave, you might not be able to afford to take it. And the FMLA is too restrictive, says Bravo.
"The definition of family needs to be brought into the 21st century," she says. "People in this country care a lot about family, and when they say family, they don't just mean the nuclear family. With people living longer, and with more and more folks in the workforce, we just have to align workplace practices with real family."
And companies in general need to become more family friendly, Williams says. The FMLA covers medical emergencies, but there are grandparents who simply need time off to help with child care or to bond with a newborn grandchild. The Family Values @ Work consortium advocates rules that allow all employees to have greater control over their work schedules so they better fit with caregiving needs.
"It just seems absolutely unbelievable that one of the richest countries in the world can't afford to have a grandmother attend to her daughter while she's having a baby," Williams says.
Most corporate work-life policies are drafted with the young family in mind, Williams says, but there are some companies creating policies that give employees more flexibility. For example, Bank of America allows employees to work compressed workweeks (40 hours in four days, for example), work from home and work flexible hours. It also offers benefits to part-time employees working at least 20 hours a week, which Williams says is particularly enticing to older workers who need the income but also need to pick up grandkids from school each day.
"Americans very often have to choose between their economic security and their family responsibilities," Williams says. "It's a profoundly troubling scenario."
Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health, caregiving and older adult topics. She lives in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.