Congress Flirts with Mandating Paid Maternity Leave, Other Women's Benefits

Tanden noted that California’s paid leave model could serve as an example of a domestic program that effectively tackles the issue.

“The vast majority of businesses report that this [program] is a positive or neutral [impact] on their bottom line. It increases productivity, it helps keep workers, it helps retain women workers, which often have to come out of the workforce and then come in at a lower salary than they otherwise would,” she said.

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, said the lack of policies providing paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance for millions of workers hinders the U.S. economy.

“Women and families in this country will not have real economic security until their earnings and their jobs are protected when they or a family member needs care,” Bravo said.

Bravo praised the FMLA for being “a great first step for families,” but, she added, “as our economy and our families have changed, so too must our laws.”

The FMLA provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to tend to medical needs and emergencies.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, nearly 40 percent of the workforce does not earn paid sick days.

She urged Congress to expand the FMLA to cover those currently excluded.

“We have a growing body of evidence that shows these policies are good for women’s economic security, for families, and for businesses’ bottom lines. We should not have the situation where having economic security is at odds with the emotions and physical health of our loved ones and yet that’s where we are,” Bravo said.

While women have made gains into typically male-dominated professions, Tanden said these gains have been unequal. About 44 percent of women still work in only 20 types of low-paying jobs, such as nurses, teachers, and salespeople. Women in these types of jobs typically lack access to benefits that help balance work and family life.

Armanda Legros, a single mother who lives in Queens, New York, asked the committee to pass legislation to help women who, like her, are the sole breadwinners in the family.

Legros lost her job at an armored truck company when she was six and a half months pregnant with her second son in 2012. After pulling a muscle in her stomach one day at work, she took a week off to recover. When she returned to work with a doctor’s note advising her to avoid heavy lifting for the remainder of the pregnancy, her manager sent her home indefinitely with no pay.

“If you truly value families, and children, then you have to make sure that the women who bear those children and raise them can earn the fair and equal wages we need to support them,” she said.