Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Federal government employees can ALREADY use their sick leave to care for partners -- did no one tell Obama that?

Early news says that one of the benefits Obama is extending to gay federal employees is the ability to use their sick leave to care for partners and their children. Well -- news flash! They already have this right.

Federal government employees can use their own sick leave to care for "any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship." Much is made of openly gay OPM head John Berry. Well, it's his department that implements this very policy. Read it here. This definition extends to same-sex partners, but it extends beyond that, to the family relationships that LGBT folks (and straight people) often develop beyond partners.

This policy reflects a deliberate decision to recognize a broad definition of family. The original proposal was much narrower. When OPM adopted this broader definition, it said: "The broader definition recognizes that in today's society there are both traditional and nontraditional families and that the responsibilities placed on the employee are the same in both cases." (That's from the Final Rule in the December 2, 1994 Federal Register....yes it's been the law since 1994).

What makes me angry about today's action is that it obliterates the importance of defining family broadly when it comes to balancing work and family responsibilities. This week Congress held a hearing on HR 2460, the Healthy Families Act, which would require private employers to provide paid sick leave. Employees would be able to use their leave to care for sick family members...defined exactly as the definition now reads for federal employees.

Gay people don't just have partners and children. We have families beyond that which mirrors heterosexual marriage. Many are estranged from parents or have moved away from their families of origin to communities more accepting of LGBT people. These relationships matter a lot...enough to generate caretaking responsibilities when someone falls ill. The fight for same-sex marriage has in many ways narrowed the discussion of family in the gay community and in the minds of straight allies.

So let's give credit to Clinton's OPM for instituting a truly gay friendly and family friendly sick leave policy for federal employees. Will someone now please tell Obama?

3 comments:

Chicago Tee Social said...

Also, 3 weeks ago SOS Clinton already addressed this issue for the State Department:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/us/24benefit.html

Obama's gesture feels even more empty.

Nancy Polikoff said...

Clinton's announcement included different-sex couples. I am still trying to figure out if that remains true at State or if it's all only same-sex couples now.

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