Check out the rest of our series on how Virginia laws affect women here.
In 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order offering eight weeks of paid family leave to 99,000 state employees, giving advocates hope there was finally sufficient momentum to pass legislation granting paid leave to all Virginians.
Instead, earlier this year the General Assembly shelved bills introduced from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) that would have required Virginia to offer 12 weeks paid leave to new parents.
The United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t guarantee paid family leave for working men and women. In fact, current federal law only requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow a new parent up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child. This means that only those parents that can afford to lose out on 12 weeks of pay can take time off.
According to the International Labour Organization, this leaves nearly half of working women without job protection if they choose to start or expand their family.
Advocates say that paid family leave would help level the playing field for women, as they are most often the ones forced to choose between job and family and end up being pushed out of the labor force.
The numbers seem to bear this out. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 59.6% of women in the state are part of the labor force in Virginia, compared to 71.9% of men.
The National Partnership for Women and Families attributes this disparity in part to lack of paid leave policies.
The choice between job and family is made all the more stark by the fact that 79% of black mothers, 48% of white mothers and 48% of Latina mothers in Virginia are the key breadwinners in their families, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Advocacy groups like NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia say that lack of paid leave means mothers are forced to go back to work quickly and don’t have the time to recover from childbirth or bond with their newborns.
Paid leave is not just an issue in the Commonwealth, either. According to a 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Labor, the lack of paid leave laws causes the United States to lose out on an estimated $500 billion in economic activity each year due to American women exiting the labor force.
Despite the setbacks of 2019, advocacy groups say they’ll continue to fight to pass a paid family leave policy in Virginia around the U.S., and momentum seems to be on their side, as more and more companies and academic institutions are enacting their own paid leave policies.