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39 Harv. Women's L.J. 1 (2016)
Just Leave

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                             JUST LEAVE


     CATHERINE ALBISTON* & LINDSEY TRIMBLE O'CONNOR


     The story of work and family conflict is a story of social change. In the
last three decades, millions of American workers have moved into precari-
ous jobs, and most of these jobs lack benefits such as sick days, vacation, or
family leave. Forty percent of the American workforce now works in non-
standard, contingent, or precarious jobs. At the same time, more families
now depend upon a single parent for both caregiving and financial support,
and far fewer families have a full-time caregiver at home. Public policy has
not kept pace with these changing social conditions, and as a result working
families now face a caregiving crisis. Although federal lawmakers recently
proposed paid family leave as a solution, studies of California's similar paid
family leave program raise serious questions about whether this solution will
work. These studies find that low-wage workers disproportionately do not
take family leave even though it is paid, a startling finding because these are
the workers who have the greatest economic incentive to use paid family
leave. These findings suggest that lost wages are not the only deterrent to
taking family leave.
     This Article documents and explains barriers to using family leave,
drawing on original survey data from a statewide representative sample of
California workers who needed but did not take paid family leave. It ana-
lyzes how workplace practices and interactions dissuade workers from tak-
ing family leave even when it is nominally available. We find that these
workers forgo leave because they both witness and experience retaliation at
work for taking family leave. Their employers use gendered conceptions of
work and family to justify this retaliation and to frame work-family conflict
as a private, personal issue, rather than the product of changing work de-
mands and social conditions. Employers continue to expect workers to be as
available and dedicated as the outdated industrial-era male breadwinner with
a stay-at-home wife, even when those employers no longer provide good
wages, secure employment, or regular hours in return. Employers draw on
work and family norms of the past to justify retaliation for taking leave and
to extend their control over workers. Because care responsibilities dispropor-

    * Professor of Law and Sociology, University of California, Berkeley. The authors
thank Kathy Abrams, Tristin Green, Elizabeth Kristen, Kristin Luker, Joy Milligan, Me-
lissa Murray, Karen Tani, Mariam Tangherlini, Sharon Terman, and Rory Van Loo for
their helpful comments on this manuscript. The authors also wish to express deep grati-
tude to Ruth Milkman for sharing the Golden Omnibus Survey data with us. The authors
thank the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University for
sponsoring the Redesigning and Redefining Work initiative that generated our collabora-
tion. Finally, many thanks to Abigail Stepnitz for providing invaluable research assis-
tance on this article.
    tAssistant Professor of Sociology, California State University, Channel Islands.

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