20th Anniversary of FMLA

Yesterday, August 5th, marked the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the nation’s first federal law guaranteeing most workers job-protected unpaid leave for certain medical or family emergencies. This monumental law promises qualified employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child or for serious health conditions.

The Economic Opportunity Institute reports that since its implementation, FMLA leave has been used more than 100 million times by an estimated 35 million men and women.  However, FMLA does not cover all workers, conditions, and situations and thus does not reflect current realities of the workforce and of families. Specifically, FMLA does not:

  • Provide pay so workers can cover basic expenses when taking leave
  • Include all family members in the definition of “family”
  • Apply to more than 40% of workers (those in companies with fewer than 50 employees, who have been on the job less than a full year, or average fewer than 25 hours of work per week)
  • Provide for short-term leave for common illnesses, such as a cold or the flu

Due to these downfalls, organizations and politicians alike have been encouraging cities and states to enact paid sick days and family medical leave insurance (FMLI) programs. Washington’s proposed FMLI legislation would “provide up to 12 weeks to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, and 12 weeks for the worker’s own serious health condition. It would also provide benefits of 2/3 of weekly pay for most workers. The program would pay for benefits through payroll premiums shared by workers and employers, starting at $1.00 per week for the typical worker.”

Federal assistance for state family leave insurance programs may be forthcoming. The State Paid Leave Fund proposed by President Obama has been included in the budget approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The recently mentioned and established Women’s Economic Agenda has consistently been said to be one of the solutions that will strengthen FMLA standards. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stated “FMLA marked a critical step forward in the ongoing struggle to ensure the economic security of all families.  Yet today, millions of workers, including more than 13 million women, are still forced to defer or delay their personal needs in favor of financial security. That’s why House Democrats believe we must offer FMLA’s protections to more of the workforce and ensure expanded access to paid and unpaid leave – and why we made stronger family and medical leave policies central to our economic policies.”

Representative Cartwright similarly stated that “Almost half of all workers are women, and 40 percent of working women are the primary breadwinners in their families. We need to take further steps to help America’s working women – and all of America’s workers – better balance their responsibilities on the job with their responsibilities to their families at home.”    

California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have family and medical leave insurance programs in place, and New York and Hawaii have statewide disability insurance covering all workers. Seattle, Portland (OR), New York City, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Connecticut have adopted paid sick leave standards. As noted in our previous blog posts, Connecticut is now trying to establish a family medical leave insurance program out of our newly formed FMLI Task Force. Please visit our website, http://ctfmli.org/, for more information.

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