The Workologist: Left Behind When a Colleague Goes on Leave


Send your workplace conundrums to, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

There’s a lot of conversation about paternity and maternity leave, and the person who’s taking it. But there isn’t a lot of dialogue about those who cover for that person while he or she is out.

When someone goes on a leave, it requires others to take on significantly more work, for the same pay and title. I would love your thoughts on what’s fair.


It’s true that while parental leave policies are widely discussed and debated, most of the focus is on either the working parent or the employer. Whether that’s fair or not, I wouldn’t expect it to change. So think instead about how you can get your concerns into the conversation.

First, some background may be useful.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires most employers to offer new mothers 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Several states have or plan laws requiring paid leave, with varying specifics, typically funded by a payroll tax. And some research on state policies has included attempts to gauge their general impact on co-workers.

Surveys before and after California introduced a paid family leave policy in 2004 asked workers how they were affected when a colleague took a leave. Before the law, 25 percent reported a negative effect; five years later, that fell to 16 percent, said Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who conducted the studies with Ruth Milkman, a City University of New York sociology professor.

Smaller studies in other states have had similar findings, said Maya Rossin-Slater, a Stanford professor of health research and policy. Dr. Milkman said more generous policies appeared to attract more participants and, as they became more routinely integrated into business practice, seemed to be more generally appreciated.


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