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Buttigieg and Family Leave During the Pandemic

Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has been on family leave since August 2021 to spend time with his husband and their two newborn children. Buttigieg claims that while he has been taking care of the babies, he has also been available at all hours to exercise any decision-making functions that his job requires. The White House has stated that they are happy for Buttigieg and his family and that every American should have access to paid family leave.

Secretary Buttigieg’s absence has been criticized as untimely while the country suffers from supply shortages. Secretary Buttigieg has defended his absence by stating that he has not truly been absent and that he has made himself available to answer questions even while on leave.

Who Qualifies for Paternity Leave?

Adoption should have no impact on whether family leave is permitted or taken. In fact, treating adopted children differently would be bad policy. If adopted children were not legally the same as born children, there would be fewer adoptions, which would either mean more children in foster care that the state has to take care of, or more abortions of unwanted children. Parental leave should be granted regardless of whether a child is adopted or born.

Some media commentators have also made remarks regarding Secretary Buttigieg’s sexual orientation. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal. Employers cannot grant parental leave to heterosexual parents and deny this same benefit to homosexual parents.

Should Paternity Leave Be Extended?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has granted certain employees job protected unpaid leave for family and medical reasons since its passage in 1993. The FMLA only extends to government workers (regardless of the level of government), businesses with 50 or more employees, or an employer engaged in commence. Some states may have greater benefits, but states cannot offer less protection.

The Covid-19 pandemic may lead to the demand for greater family or medical leave legislation. Many young parents have become accustomed to being close to their children during the pandemic lockdowns and remote work has become popular. Even parents who do want to return to the worksite may not be able to find childcare for their children. The question isn’t whether Secretary Buttigieg should have paternity leave but whether paternity leave should be extended beyond what current law requires.

However, further paternity leave may be challenging for employers, especially since many of them allegedly have difficulty hiring and retaining employees in the current labor market. A “one-size fit all” approach may not work. Some industries, like restaurant and retail, are experiencing greater labor difficulties while other industries are less impacted. Some employees, like Secretary Buttigieg, may be more critical than others and their employers might need these employees on standby, even while on leave. The FMLA itself doesn’t cover all employers in the country and is limited to governments and medium employers that arguably can bear the brunt of the costs of paternity leave.

Do I Need an Attorney if I Need Family Leave?

A skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney can help employers determine whether the Family and Medical Leave Act, or other state family leave laws, apply to their business. It is important to remember that business owners have a federal responsibility to their employees to adhere to all family leave laws.

A skilled and knowledgeable employment attorney can also help ensure that your rights as an employee are protected. If an employee is denied the leave for which they are eligible, an attorney can represent you in court.


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