Today, to mark the 21st anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the National Partnership for Women & Families released the seventh edition of its guide to the law and the protections it provides. The guide, which is available in both English and Spanish, is designed to be a comprehensive explanation of a law that has been used more than 100 million times over the past two decades by women and men who needed to care for their own health or the health of their families.
“Since 1993, the FMLA has provided invaluable support to millions of mothers, fathers, spouses and children who needed time away from work to recover from serious illnesses, welcome new babies, or care for an ill or injured family member,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, the organization that drafted and led the fight for the law. “It also has transformed the culture of America’s workplaces. This guide makes the FMLA more accessible and helps people navigate its protections and the adjustments that have been made to it over the years.”
The FMLA provides eligible workers – about 60 percent of the workforce – with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to welcome a newborn or newly adopted child (including foster children); care for a seriously ill family member (defined as a spouse, child or parent); recover from a serious illness (including pregnancy or childbirth); care for an injured military servicemember (up to 26 weeks); or deal with situations related to a family member’s deployment.
However, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Labor survey, about 40 percent of the workforce is not covered by the FMLA because it only applies to employers with more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, and employees who have worked for their employers for at least a year or 1,250 hours. The same survey found that being unable to afford to take the unpaid leave the law provides is the most common reason people who needed leave under the FMLA say they did not take it.
Over the years, 20 states have aimed to address these challenges by passing more generous leave laws, as documented in a recent National Partnership report, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have gone a step further by establishing family leave insurance programs that complement existing temporary disability insurance programs and provide workers with some pay when they need to take leave for family or medical reasons. Numerous studies suggest these programs are working well.
“The FMLA was a major step toward a family friendly America 21 years ago, but it was always meant to be just a first step,” Ness said. “Too many people still are not eligible for its protections and we know that even those who are eligible too often cannot afford to take time away from work without pay. That’s why federal-level efforts to expand the FMLA and to establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program like the FAMILY Act are so critical for families and the nation.”
The federal Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program similar to those in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The National Partnership convenes a national coalition of more than 430 groups that is pushing for the bill’s passage. Right now, just 12 percent of workers in the United States have paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have paid medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance.
The National Partnership’s 2014 Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is available in English and Spanish online at: www.NationalPartnership.org/FMLAGuide and www.NationalPartnership.org/GuiadelaFMLA.