Tuesday, February 5, marks exactly 20 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law. The nation’s first and only federal law designed to help families manage their responsibilities at work and at home, it was a historic and groundbreaking event.
Since then, millions of people have been able to take unpaid leave to care for themselves, their new children and their family members without having to worry that their jobs would be gone when they returned. Fathers and mothers have taken time to care for new children. Expecting mothers have taken time to care for themselves and seek medical help during complicated pregnancies. Adult children have taken time to care for ailing parents. Nearly everyone has, or knows someone who has, benefited from the FMLA.
This shared experience is a testament to the FMLA’s success—and that is why this anniversary is a time to celebrate. The FMLA has had a tremendous impact on our nation’s families and workplace culture. And the fact that it has been used more than 100 million times is evidence of the continuing, urgent need for supportive public policies.
This anniversary is also a moment to recommit to an America in which family comes first. The FMLA was meant to be a first step toward a nation in which all working people can have children, recover from illness and care for seriously ill loved ones without threatening their jobs or economic security. Sadly, in 20 years, our nation has failed to take another step.
As the organization that drafted and led the fight for the FMLA, the National Partnership continues to push for improvements. We are also pressing for a national paid family and medical leave program that would prevent workers from having to sacrifice precious income when serious medical needs arise or children are born or join families. We were proud to join with Working Mother last year to galvanize support for that effort. (You can still sign the petition for paid parental leave here.)
Advancing common sense measures like these, which help working mothers and their families and have overwhelming public support, must be a priority for Congress and the administration, this anniversary year and beyond. Let’s not wait another 20 years before making America more family friendly. The time for action is now. Let’s take the next step toward the America working families need.
The National Partnership for Women & Families drafted and led the fight for the Family and Medical Leave Act. The organization is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.