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Queens lawmaker introduces bill to help parents return to workforce following COVID-19 pandemic

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Congresswoman Grace Meng introduced a new legislation that aims to promote family-friendly policies in the workplace in order to help parents who were forced to leave their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis return to the workforce.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, many parents have been forced to leave the workforce in order to meet the unprecedented demands of caregiving, remote schooling, housework and other family responsibilities. This has especially impacted mothers, particularly moms of color, as there are about 2 million fewer women — including 1 million fewer moms — in the labor force than there were before the pandemic began.

Meng’s bill, the Honoring Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, seeks to motivate businesses to provide a healthier and easier work-life balance for hardworking families.

“We must do more to promote positive work environments so that working parents are able to return to the labor force as soon as possible, and my legislation would be a major boost in implementing policies to help in that critical effort,” Meng said. “Working parents have faced enormous challenges during the pandemic, and we must make sure that their working environments are well suited for them as they make their way back to the workforce. We cannot leave working parents out of our nation’s recovery as we rebound from the pandemic. We must assist them so that they can resume and advance their careers and once again receive a paycheck without sacrificing the needs of their children and families.”

Specifically, Meng’s measure would direct the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a national certification program that recognizes exemplary family-friendly business policies. It would recognize and incentivize employers who commit to helping employees better juggle their family obligations and work responsibilities.

“Nobody should have to choose between their work or their family,” Meng said.

This certification program is intended to be similar to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program that helps consumers identify energy-efficient products. It would evaluate businesses on a number of policies, including paid sick days for workers; child care subsidies; lactation support; reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees; assistance paying for or referring workers to fertility or adoption services; paid family leave of at least 12 weeks per year; and/or, and flexible hours — or remote work policies — once parents return to work after a birth, adoption or foster care placement.

The Honoring Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, which has 14 cosponsors, has been endorsed by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Marshall Plan for Moms, MomsRising, Women’s March and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). It follows the Marshall Plan for Moms, a measure Meng introduced in February that provides a framework to revitalize and restore mothers in the workforce.

Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said employers that adopt family-friendly policies raise the bar for industry standards and promote better state and federal policies. 

“We commend Rep. Meng for introducing the Honoring Family-Friendly Workplaces Act to recognize employers that provide critical benefits like paid family and medical leave and paid sick days,” Ness said. “These worthwhile investments improve the lives of employees, their families and communities — and are good for business.”

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said unemployment rates for Asian American and Pacific Islander women nearly tripled as a result of the pandemic. 

“This is on top of the disproportionate wage gap that has plagued certain subgroups of Asian American and Pacific Islander women,” Choimorrow said. “The Honoring Family-Friendly Workplaces Act is grounded in common sense and I applaud Rep. Meng’s leadership to create family-positive work environments so working parents aren’t forced to live in the endless cycle of choosing between our livelihoods and the well-being of our families.”

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