The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) took effect 20 years ago yesterday, requiring employers to provide unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons with the promise that the employee can return to work. The law allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to serious health conditions of the employee, parent, spouse, or child, or for pregnancy or care of a newborn child. Eligibility requirements include at least one year of work for that company and at least 1,250 of work during that year.
While the enactment of FMLA was progress in the improvement of worker protection and worker benefits, there are still employees who are not eligible for FMLA and employees who do not have the means to use it.
Millions of workers are earning less than a living wage while trying to raise a family. While many of these workers are eligible for FMLA, a majority of them do not use it because a loss in hours would mean a loss in pay that too many workers could not financially afford. According to Department of Labor estimates, 78% of workers who needed to take FMLA-covered leave did not exercise that right because they said they could not afford to use it.
Over 40 million American workers do not have any paid sick days. All workers deserve time to take care of themselves and their family members in need. FMLA has benefited workers for 20 years, but it is time to take the next step and ensure that all workers are covered by the law and are compensated for their time off.