Here’s How to Write in Support of an Expanded Definition of Family

Do you want the people you care about to count, even if they are not related to you by marriage or blood? You can ask the Department of Labor to expand the definition of family as it applies to paid sick leave. Activists from “A Better Balance” and “Family Values @ Work” have prepared a sample letter (see below) and you can modify it as you like and submit it online, so this is easy to do.  Stated deadline is March 28 2016, but that is likely to be extended.

What You Need to Know

 When: The deadline for submission is March 28, 2016

How: There are two ways to submit your comment:

1) Electronic submission here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=WHD-2016-0001-0001. There is a blue button saying “comment now!” on this page.

2) OR submit one copy by mail to: Robert Waterman, Compliance Specialist, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S–3510, 200 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20210.

Keep in Mind: Your comment must include the Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 1235–AA13, and mention the Department of Labor. This information is already included in the example template attached. Also, please be aware that all comments will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov.

Sample Letter

[Date]

Robert Waterman, Compliance Specialist,

Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor,

Room S–3510, 200 Constitution Avenue NW.,

Washington, DC 20210

Re: Proposed Department of Labor (Wage and Hour Division) Rule on Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors (RIN 1235–AA13)

Dear Mr. Waterman,

[Insert organization name, or change to “I” if writing personally] strongly supports the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed rules for implementing President Obama’s Executive Order regarding paid sick leave and federal contractors (RIN 1235-AA13). In particular, we applaud the proposed family definition, which recognizes that families often transcend biological and legal relationships. We urge DOL to use the following language it proposed without modification: “Individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship means any person with whom the employee has a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship.” Rather than enumerating the types of relationships that meet this “blood or affinity” standard, it should remain broad and flexible to recognize diverse family structures.

[Organization description and connection to paid sick time issue, if applicable]

Far too many workers are forced to choose between a paycheck and a personal or family health issue. Fortunately, an increasing number of cities and states across the country have passed laws ensuring that workers have the right to earn paid sick time, and research shows that these laws are working well. The proposed Executive Order and implementing rule will build on this progress and extend a critical right to an estimated 828,000 employees of federal contractors, more than half of whom do not receive any paid sick time.

We fully support DOL’s proposed definition that an “[i]ndividual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship means any person with whom the employee has a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship.” In response to DOL’s request for input, we strongly support the proposed language and believe no specific limitations are necessary. In fact, any attempt to enumerate and limit the types of relationships covered by this “blood or affinity” standard could undermine its purpose and exclude certain family relationships. DOL’s emphasis on a significant personal bond, regardless of a biological or legal relationship, captures the essence of this standard and reflects the reality of today’s families. Moreover, DOL’s example of a worker who has provided, for five years, unpaid care to an elderly neighbor captures the important relationships covered by a flexible definition.

DOL’s proposed family definition reflects that American families come in all shapes and sizes, rather than conforming to a nuclear model. More than 18% of Americans—57 million people—live in multi-generational family households, a twofold increase since 1980.[1] This figure is higher among communities of color; about 25% of Latino and Black Americans, and 27% of Asian Americans, live in a multigenerational household.[2] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 20% of households with children include nonrelatives or family members other than a parent or sibling, and 4.3 million children live with an extended relative (not including parents, siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, brothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law).[3]

DOL’s proposed family definition will also help to support LGBTQ Americans, who have been shown to rely more on close friends, or “chosen family,” in an emergency than their non-LGBT peers.[4] LGBTQ-identified older adults in the U.S. are twice as likely as non-LGBTQ-identified seniors to live alone and more than four times as likely to be childless.[5] Therefore, LGBTQ older adults are less likely to have family support when they need care and often rely on “families of choice” or support networks that are comprised of close relationships that are the equivalent of family.[6]

A “blood or affinity” standard would not be difficult to implement and is unlikely to be abused. The strongest proof of this fact is that the federal government, which employs more than 2 million civilian workers, has successfully implemented “blood or affinity” language in its own personnel policies for nearly 50 years.[7] “Blood or affinity” language has been used in the context of funeral leave since 1969, for voluntary leave transfers since 1989, and for sick leave generally since 1994.[8] The repeated expansion of this language underscores the fact that it has worked well. In addition, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has addressed the definition of family in at least two final rule makings since 1994, and it has chosen not to narrow this “blood or affinity” language or enumerate the types of relationships included under the standard.[9]

The successful inclusion of a broad “blood or affinity” standard in the federal personnel rules is also notable, given the greater amount of sick leave available to federal workers as compared to workers covered by the proposed rule. While federal workers can use up to 104 hours of sick leave a year to care for a family member’s ordinary health needs and up to 480 hours of sick leave a year to care for a family member with a serious health condition, the rule at issue here is more limited; it will simply entitle covered employees of federal contractors to earn up to 56 hours of paid sick time that they could use for themselves or the health needs of their loved ones—whether or not they have a blood or legal relationship.[10]

We also commend DOL for including a broad definition of domestic partner and committed relationships. The number of Americans who cohabit rather than marry is at a historic high. As of 2012, approximately 20% of Americans ages 25 and older—or 42 million people—have never married, an increase from 9% in 1960.[11] In addition, nearly a quarter (24%) of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 are living with an unmarried partner.[12] However, we would like to raise a concern regarding the requirement that domestic partners share responsibility for a significant measure of each other’s financial obligations. For many couples, there is only one breadwinner earning income for both members of the couple; the regulations should be clear that such couples are not excluded from the definition of domestic partners or committed relationship solely because only one partner earns income that they both depend upon.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposed rule. We look forward to passage of this rule and its proposed family definition, which will ensure that employees of government contractors do not have to choose between a paycheck and a personal or family health condition, regardless of whether the worker’s family is nuclear or non-nuclear.

Sincerely,

[Name & Organization, if applicable]

[1] Richard Fry and Jeffrey S. Passel, In Post-Recession Era, Young Adults Drive Continuing Rise in Multi-Generational Living, Pew Research Center (July 17, 2014), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/07/17/in-post-recession-era-young-adults-drive-continuing-rise-in-multi-generational-living/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rose M. Kreider and Renee Ellis, Living Arrangements of Children: 2009, U.S. Census Bureau (June 2011), pp. 21-22, 24.

[4] See, e.g., Still Out, Still Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Baby Boomers, MetLife Mature Market Institute and American Society of Aging (March 2010), pp. 13-15.

[5] Robert Espinoza, “The Diverse Elders Coalition and LGBT Aging: Connecting Communities, Issues, and Resources in a Historic Moment,” Public Policy & Aging Report, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Summer 2011), p. 9.

[6] Still Out, Still Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Baby Boomers, MetLife Mature Market Institute and American Society of Aging, (March 2010), pp. 13-15

[7] “Overview,” Data, Analysis & Documentation: Federal Employment Reports, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, last visited February 26, 2016, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/data-analysis-documentation/federal-employment-reports/#url=Overview.

[8] Funeral Leave, Fed. Reg., Vol. 34, No. 163 (August 26, 1969); Absence and Leave; Voluntary Leave Transfer Program, 54 Fed. Reg. 4749-01 (January 31, 1989);Absence and Leave; Sick Leave, 59 Fed. Reg. 62266-01 (December 2, 1994); 5 C.F.R. § 630.201

[9] See, e.g., Absence and Leave; Definitions of Family Member, Immediate Relative, and Related Terms, 75 Fed. Reg. 33491 (June 14, 2010).

[10] “Fact Sheet: Sick Leave,” Pay & Leave: Leave Administration, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, last visited February 26, 2016, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/sick-leave-general-information/.

[11] Wendy Wang and Kim Parker, Record Share of Americans Have Never Married, Pew Research Center (September 24, 2014), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/09/24/record-share-of-americans-have-never-married/

[12] Ibid.

About Bella DePaulo

Comments

  1. Hi Bella, good to see that this topic is getting traction and other groups are involved in changing the definition of “family”. That said, I am not sure that this proposed language gets us all the way there, but maybe this is what we can get at this point. The reason I say that is because:
    a. the term ‘personal bond’ is again an arbitrary standard which is hard to prove and is ambiguous and who will be monitoring or deciding whether the employee is in compliance? It is better than ‘blood’ or ‘affinity’, but not sure if we need this term at all.
    b. Not sure why the proposed language is trying to establish equivalency with ‘family relationship’ (well, I guess I know why :) but maybe we don’t need the term ‘family/relationship’ at all…)

    This begs another question – why does an employee taking personal/sick leave (within company policy of number of days granted) have to designate somebody or provide a reason for this leave? They may be taking care of their own personal sickness/issue and/or other ‘human beings’ – whose relationship status should not matter to the company.

    Most companies have limits on sick leave and there are specific rules when Short/Long Term Disability kicks-in so those rules will be followed as usual.

    So, if we are going to provide (government) benefits using the ‘family/relationship’ criteria and this standard must be met then, as I have proposed previously, family should simply be defined as any adult/child designated by the employee. I think all other definitions (blood, affinity, personal bond, loved ones…etc.) leave room for ambiguity and other interpretations.

    Thanks
    Rajiv

    • Bella DePaulo says:

      Thanks, Rajiv, for these thoughtful observations. I think you are right about what would be ideal. Affinity is less than ideal but a step forward from what came before.

      I forgot to disable comments to this post and instead send people to the Facebook page. I meant to do that because I’ve been inundated with spam comments. Usually more people participate in conversations from the Facebook page anyway.

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