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Establishing a Strong Social Safety Net for Families

Under pro-family policy far fewer families would need safety-net programs. Other pro-family policies - including the parental leave and child benefits that all families with children would receive, in combination with measures that reduce economic inequality and economic insecurity, as well as the pay parity for part-time work and childcare subsidies so that parents can more easily work for pay - will mean that fewer families can’t make ends meet. But this won’t always be the case for all families. There will inevitably be some situations in which markets combined with universal benefits won’t be adequate. Dealing with these situations requires a strong social safety net.

Pro-family policy would not allow any family with children or other dependents who need caregiving to go hungry or without a roof over their heads simply because they can’t secure sufficient income on the market. This means that government will provide basic levels of income and housing support for those who aren’t able to earn sufficient income to meet these basic demands through market work. These programs wouldn’t mean that the state couldn’t require able adults to engage in reasonable levels of productive work, at least during periods when they are able to work and don’t have significant caretaking responsibilities for family members. But it would mean that families wouldn’t be deprived of basic levels of support simply because adults couldn’t find work, or because, when they do, the market doesn’t reward them sufficiently.

Playing Traffic Cop: Ensuring That Workers Can Combine Work and Family

Last, but not least, work hours and schedules of citizens shouldn’t be left to the vagaries of the market. Instead, they should be set in accordance with a collective commitment to allowing everyone to combine paid work with family lives. Six such measures together would create an economy that truly allowed people to reconcile work with family responsibilities.

Limits to Work Hours

The importance of sound families to the liberal project means that the state should support workers being able to return home at a reasonable time at the end of the workday. This can be accomplished either through regulation that sets a reasonable standard workweek or through establishing a process through which working hours can be collectively bargained between workers and employers at a company or across a job sector. Both types of arrangements, or some combination of the two, are now in use in European Union member states (Eurofound 2016, 35-39).

Many European countries have adopted workplace regulations that serve this function. A number of them have adopted a standard workday of eight hours, and a standard workweek of 40 hours as a baseline (Eurofound 2016, 35 fig. 11). To accommodate intermittent periods of high demand, employers can average the maximum hours over a period of weeks, thereby allowing them to exceed the maximum weekly hours for short periods of time. Work beyond the baseline hours up to a maximum number of hours (now 48 hours a week in European Union countries) is allowed only on certain conditions, normally including that an employee agrees to the overtime work. And when employees do agree to overtime, they must receive either overtime pay or compensatory time for those extra hours. In these systems, employers may not penalize employees who refuse to agree to overtime.

Paid Vacation

Furthermore, the state should mandate a statutory minimum period of annual leave, paid by the employer, to ensure that workers have adequate personal and family time. The minimum of 20 paid vacation days in place in most European Union member states is a reasonable place to start (Eurofound 2016, 49).

Predictable Work Hours

In addition, the state should regulate to require that employers give employees reasonable advance notice of their work schedules so that they can plan their lives and their childcare and dependent care. Employers should also be required to give good-faith estimates of the number of hours that employees will likely work at the time they are hired, as well as whether employees will have to work on-call shifts. And employees should also be required to receive a set minimum number of hours between shifts.

Part-Time Work for Parents With Young Children or Those With Elder-Care or Other Caregiving Responsibilities

A pro-family economy also needs to ensure that parents and others with caretaking responsibilities can work part-time without being disproportionately penalized. The United Kingdom provides a good model for such a system. Under U.K. law, employees who have worked more than one-half a year with the same employer have the right to request reduced working hours. While employers don’t have to grant the request, they can refuse it only for specified business reasons. When the United Kingdom adopted this policy for parents with a young child under six or a disabled child, it turns out that a million parents - one-quarter of the number of parents eligible - made such requests in the first year alone (Waldfogel 2006, 68).

In 2013, after the law was extended to parents with children under 17, employers approved eight in ten requests for temporarily reduced work hours, while approving over 90 percent of requests for permanently reduced work hours. This system worked so well that the following year the United Kingdom expanded it to give all employees the right to request, regardless of caregiver status (Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills 2014, 50, appendix C table 27, 31). The Netherlands recently introduced a law that provides even stronger protections for employees. That law requires that employers show a compelling business interest in order to reject a request for part-time scheduling (Bird and Brown 2018, 74). U.K. law requires that those employees who work part-time be paid equal hourly pay compared to full-time workers, receive benefits on a pro-rata basis, and be treated no less favorably than comparable full-time workers when it comes to layoffs (GOV.UK 2018).

Work-Time Flexibility

Pro-family policy also supports employees being able to adjust their work schedules to accommodate family responsibilities. Where it is practicable for the employer, employees should be able to negotiate modifications to their work schedules to accommodate family responsibilities, through adjusting their daily work hours, through taking breaks in their normal working hours, or through working from home for a certain amount of time each week.

Even in the United States, precedent exists for laws supporting flextime. Since 2014 Vermont employees have had the right to request a flexible work arrangement for any reason without retaliation by the employer. Furthermore, the employer must grant the request unless it is “inconsistent with business operations,” although the circumstances that fall within this category are broad (Vermont General Assembly 2014, 21.005.001 5309(f)).

Paid Family Leave for Illness of Family Members

Finally, workers who need time off from work to care for a family member should be entitled to publicly paid leave. Here, too, models for such paid leave are already in place in the great majority of wealthy democracies. Roughly half of these countries provide at least three months of paid leave for children’s health needs; a minority of them also provide three months paid leave for adult family members’ health needs. The majority of these countries that provide paid leave provide a wage replacement rate of at least 80 percent (Raub et al. 2018, 2-4). Every country should join them.

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