Back in May, we featured the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on Wonky Word Wednesdays. Well this Wednesday marks the 22nd anniversary of the national law and we wanted to expand upon our Wonky Word post to tell you how the FMLA has impacted American families for over two decades, why it’s time to build upon the FMLA, and also invite you to participate in tomorrow’s celebration.
The FMLA is a model for bi-partisan support and is evidence that lawmakers can work together to support working families.
In 1993, policymakers, along with over 200 coalition members made up of women, seniors, labor groups, and religious organizations, came together to enact the FMLA. The FMLA is the first (and biggest) step so far in terms of ensuring a fair and family-friendly national workplace policy.
To date, the FMLA is the only federal law that provides working parents the opportunity to take time off to care for themselves or their family members without losing their job. Since its inception, the FMLA has been used over 200 million times by women and men to attend to their own health or to the health of their family, like a child, an elderly parent, or a spouse. However, MBPC believes FMLA remains just the “first” step, and we need to continue to work better protect the economic stability of American workers.
As you may remember from our Wonky Word post, the FMLA provides unpaid but job-protected leave for Americans that work full-time and who are employed by businesses with 50-or-more workers. However, 40% of working Americans are not covered by the FMLA because they do not fulfill these work-related requirements. In Montana, 91% of businesses employ 20 or fewer workers, which means none of the individuals working for these businesses would qualify for the FMLA. And even among those who are covered, many workers simply cannot afford to take unpaid time off of work. Further, the FMLA does not cover all caregiving forms, like caring for a grandparent, grandchild, sibling, in-law, or domestic partner.
While the FMLA has been a significant first step in creating a workplace that enables individuals to better balance work and family demands, it’s time for the FMLA to modernize and for additional policies to be enacted to better support working families.
Updating the FMLA to reduce the employer-size threshold or reduce hours-worked requirements would ensure that more individuals would qualify for the FMLA. Additionally, including a broader definition of family to include grandparents, siblings, and domestic partners would ensure that workers are covered for all caregiving activities.
Finally, state paid family leave programs, such as those in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, supplement the FMLA. A paid family leave program would enable more workers to receive paid time off to care for themselves or their family members, remain financially secure during leave, and also receive job-protection if they concurrently took paid leave with the FMLA.
Now that you know a bit more about the great impact the FMLA has had on hundreds of millions of workers and better understand its limitations, join in tomorrow’s activities as the National Partnership for Women & Families celebrates the FMLA’s 22nd anniversary and leads a digital day of action and twitter storm.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.