Happy Birthday FMLA
February 5 is the anniversary of the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. When the FMLA was passed in 1993 it was a huge step toward protecting workers who needed to take a leave for a serious health condition, or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. The FMLA may also be used for what the Department of Labor website refers to as “birth and bonding”, which is basically parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. More than 20 years later the FMLA is what is commonly used as maternity or paternity leave across the U.S.
As we have mentioned in other posts, the U.S. has some of the worst maternity and paternity leave in the world, and even the unpaid FMLA benefit does not cover all workers. However, it is worth looking at what the FMLA did accomplish for American workers on the anniversary of its passage.
First of all, as MomsRising.org points out here, the FMLA is not just for mothers or maternity leave. The FMLA exposed the need for work-life balance for all workers who are also caregivers, including fathers, mothers, and those caring for family members with a serious health condition. The dialogue between employees and companies about paid leave should start from the point of view that all workers need this benefit, not just child-bearing women, and that paid leave affects all working families for a variety of reasons, not just the birth of a biological child.
Additionally, the FMLA was the first protection for workers who needed time off. According to the National Partnership of Women and Families, who helped draft the bill, in the first 20 years of the bill’s existence workers had used the FMLA “at least 200 million times to take time off when they need it most, without having to worry about losing their jobs or their health insurance”. This set an important tone for American companies about the need for employees to be able to fulfill commitments to their families without having to worry about jeopardizing their employment, and financial security, in the process.
The FMLA was a big step forward for working families when it passed, and has helped millions of Americans. However, it falls short of helping those who are ineligible for its benefits and those who are unable to use it for financial reasons because it is unpaid leave. In this TED Talk, Jessica Shortall makes the case for why America needs paid leave. If you agree, join the movement and conversation by listing your leave. Many companies recognize the need to offer leave in addition to the FMLA benefits their workers may have. Let’s let all companies know we appreciate the progress made by the FMLA, but in order to succeed at work and family, all workers need access to paid leave.