U.S. Lags in Worker Protections

A new study by McGill University finds that the United States lags significantly behind other affluent countries in leave, sick days and other worker protections.

U.S. policies to ensure decent working conditions for families still lag behind those of other high-income countries, according to a new study by McGill Universitys Institute for Health and Social Policy.

In studying 173 countries, IHSP Director Dr. Jody Heymann found that 168 (97 percent) guarantee paid maternal leave, with 98 (57 percent) of them offering 14 or more weeks of paid leave. The United States, in contrast, does not guarantee paid leave for mothers, a status shared by only Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

Sixty-five (38 percent) of the affluent countries grant fathers either paid paternity leave or paid parental leave, 31 (18 percent) of them for 14 weeks or more. In this category, too, the United States does not guarantee paid leave.

Though breastfeeding has been demonstrated to reduce infant mortality, the United States does not guarantee the right to breastfeed at work. Yet, of the 173 countries studied, 107 (62 percent) do.

While 145 (84 percent) of the 173 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 (73 percent) providing a week or more annually, the United States provides unpaid leave for only serious illnesses through the Family & Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers. The United States has no federal law providing for paid sick days.

The United States also lags in paid annual leave, which it does not offer. Seventy-nine percent, or 137 of the other countries do. In addition, the United States lacks a maximum work week length or a limit on mandatory overtime pay per week, though 134 (77 percent) countries have such laws.

Finally, the United States does not have any mandates that employers provide a day of rest each week so workers are not required to go for long periods without a day off, though 126 (73 percent) other countries do.

"More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of," said Dr. Heymann, the studys lead author, in a statement.

"The U.S. has been a proud leader in adopting laws that provide for equal opportunity in the workplace, but our work/family protections are among the worst. Its time for change."


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