When a great joy like the birth or adoption of a child occurs, the most important thing parents can give is our time. The same is true when the going gets tough, and a spouse, child or parent suffers from serious health conditions. And when we, ourselves, are coping with severe illness, we also need the time to take care. Thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which hits its twentieth anniversary on Tuesday, February 5, many working parents have been afforded unpaid time off to deal with these situations without worrying about the loss of jobs and/or insurance benefits.
Since its inception in 1993 under the Clinton Administration, the FMLA has been used by workers more than 100 million times. It entitles covered employees to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a new child, as well as when the employee or his/her spouse, child or parent suffers a serious health condition. In addition, the FMLA extends to military caregivers and covered military members who need time off to handle family responsibilities.
While the FMLA has been a safeguard for many throughout the years, the National Partnership for Women & Families, the organization that authored the law, has continually worked to improve it. One of the nonprofit’s concerns is that the FMLA doesn’t cover nearly enough people. The FMLA requires that workers belong to companies with at least 50 employees and complete one year of work at the company, at least 1250 hours in 12 months. Nearly 50 percent of workers are ineligible for coverage because they work for small businesses or haven’t been at their jobs long enough to qualify.
The National Partnership is also pushing for a paid family and medical leave insurance program, since many workers who are eligible for unpaid leave can’t afford to take advantage of it. Only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employers, and currently only two states—California and New Jersey—have made paid family leave available to all employees. These paid leave laws allow workers to earn some of their income while they take time off to address a serious health condition, care for a family member with a serious health condition or care for a newborn, newly adopted child or newly placed foster child. The two states’ laws serve as a good model for the rest of the nation, but they don't reach enough people.
Working Mother has joined forces with the National Partnership to fight for access for more workers and, indeed, for paid parental leave as extentions of the current FMLA. (You can sign our petition that urges buy-in for paid leave by Congress and the current administration here.) The passage of the FMLA 20 years ago was a landmark occasion. But there's much more to be done. And now's the time to fight for it.