Twenty years ago today, for the first time in our nation’s history, tens of millions of people had the right to take time away from their jobs to address the health and caregiving needs we all face at some point in our lives. Since then, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has been used more than 100 million times, changing the culture of our nation and its workplaces, and resulting in personal and powerful stories that demonstrate the importance of ensuring people can meet the demands of job and family.
Since this day in 1993, the FMLA has touched the lives of mothers, fathers, spouses, children and people across the country. As the organization that drafted and led the fight for the law, we are proud of the many ways it has helped families and our nation. And we continue to be touched and inspired by the poignant stories that demonstrate its tremendous impact.
Stories like that of a new mother in Maryland who was able to take time off of work when her son was born with a congenital heart defect; a California son who was able to be there to care for his father during his final days of life; a woman in Tennessee whose job was protected when she had to have triple bypass heart surgery; a mother in Pennsylvania who was able to be by her son’s side after he was in a serious car accident; and many more.
As President Clinton said in February at an event celebrating the historic moment he signed the FMLA into law, “every time it is used, there is a story.” He couldn’t be more right.
At the National Partnership, we are committed to continuing to raise awareness of the FMLA and the protections it provides – to make sure that people know their rights under the law, and to contribute to the many stories that illustrate its strengths. That’s why, to mark this 20th anniversary of the FMLA taking effect, we have released the sixth edition of our FMLA guide – a question-and-answer resource designed to help people navigate the law and understand the adjustments made to it in recent years.
But, as much power as the 100 million stories of the FMLA have, there are too many other stories that reveal that it simply isn’t enough. They make clear what we at the National Partnership have known since 1993: The FMLA was meant to be just a first step – not the last. Forty percent of the workforce is not covered by its protections, and millions who are can’t afford to take the unpaid leave it provides.
People like the Arizona wife who was able to briefly care for her husband after his heart attack, but who had to rush back to work because their money was running out; a new mother in Georgia who was only able to take six days off of work to care for her son because her husband had just lost his job and finances were stretched; a new mother in Texas who had to go back to work with post-partum depression and a blood infection because she could not afford to take any more unpaid leave; and too many others.
Stories like these are all too common, and that is why efforts to address our nation’s outdated and out-of-sync workplace policies are so important. Some states are the leading the way by expanding the FMLA. California, New Jersey and recently Rhode Island have gone further by establishing their own paid leave programs. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee recently passed a bill that would help more states develop these programs. Members of the full Senate and House should approve it right away.
But what the country truly needs are national standards. The FMLA laid the foundation for a family friendly America, and it is past time for Congress and the president to build upon it. Measures to expand the FMLA to cover more people who need leave for more reasons must advance. And Congress must focus on taking the next step: a national paid leave insurance program. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle came together to pass the FMLA. It is time for them to do so again, to put families first and to make the economic stability of workers, their families and our nation a priority.
The National Partnership’s 2013 Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is available online at: www.NationalPartnership.org/FMLAGuide.
We were pleased to see champions for working families in Congress, such as Leader Nancy Pelosi, recognize this historic moment in our nation’s history today by both praising the FMLA and calling for the national paid leave standard the country needs. All members of Congress should follow their lead. Urge your senators and representatives to support paid leave here.