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Abstract

Using school involvement leave legislation as the focus for analysis, this article proposes the “empowerment identity” approach to work-family legislation as an alternative or complement to the commonly used accommodation and antidiscrimination approaches. In many households, working parents struggle to meet routine demands of parenting, such as caring for a sick child or attending a child’s school activity. Interestingly, one of the most common forms of state-level legislation designed to address the routine demands of parenting is school involvement leave legislation. Although state school involvement leave statutes vary widely in how and for what reasons they permit time away from work for parents to attend a child’s school functions, they represent the common view that the purpose of work-family legislation is to (1) accommodate episodic parenting needs when those needs interfere with work obligations or (2) prohibit discrimination by an employer when a worker-parent requires time away from work to attend to those caregiving needs. After analyzing existing school involvement leave legislation and demonstrating that this legislation takes both accommodation and antidiscrimination approaches to regulating school involvement leave, this article suggests that an alternative approach to critiquing and crafting work-family legislation, particularly school involvement leave legislation, is the empowerment identity approach. An empowerment identity approach, adapted from organizational communication theory, frames legislation as a discursive structure in which workerparents should be empowered to construct individualized workerparent identities through language and related action. Accordingly, after explaining the empowerment identity approach, this article concludes that school involvement leave statutes, re-envisioned as discursive frameworks for constructing identity, fall short of full empowerment but have the potential to empower parents to accomplish plural, individualized, and authentic identities as both worker-parents and as important stewards of their children’s educations.

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