3 Employees Who Pushed For Paid Leave At Work — & What Happened

Illustrations by Abbie Winters
Over the last few years, the number of corporations expanding paid family leave policies for employees has increased. Most recently, Starbucks and Walmart have expanded this option for workers who don't occupy the C-Suite. (Although some of that progress has been marked with layoffs as well.)
To be clear, this progress didn't happen overnight: The passage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 25 years ago was a big step in giving workers time to care for newborns and loved ones, but efforts for a more comprehensive, national policy for parents is still a way off. In honor of the anniversary of FMLA, the National Partnership for Women & Families has released an analysis showing how expanded leave would change the lives of various Americans.
"Nationally, the FMLA guarantees unpaid leave, but about 40% of workers are not covered by the law and many who are covered cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides," the organization explains. "Just 15% of workers in the United States have paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40% have paid medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance."
Although many of these efforts start at the top-level, many advocates argue that ensuring these policies reach employees at all levels is where real change lies.
"Employees and the public at large are all showing tremendous appetite for equal treatment when it comes to parental leave — a baby of the CEO or the mail clerk both have the same needs," says Katie Bethell, the founder and executive director of Paid Leave U.S. (PL+US). "Parental leave is a great place to start [and] companies should have their eyes on family caregiving and taking care of spouses and elderly family members, as the next big trend in workplace needs as our population ages."
Ahead, we talk to three people who fought for paid leave in three very different workplaces. They explained the setbacks, research, and conversations it took to make a change at their jobs.