CHICAGO—February 5th marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by President Bill Clinton. The FMLA was designed to address the need for workers to take temporary, job-protected leave due to personal or family illness, or childbirth. Women Employed played an instrumental role in getting FMLA passed and signed.
But FMLA doesn’t go far enough. We need to expand the law to ensure all workers can take paid, job-protected leave.
Prior to FMLA, when workers faced a serious illness or the illness of a family member, or needed leave for the birth of a child, they either had to return to work prematurely or risk losing their jobs.
Ensuring Americans’ right to take unpaid leave was a nine-year battle. Women Employed was part of the initiative from the very beginning, playing an integral role in a national coalition led by the National Partnership for Women and Families (then called the Women’s Legal Defense Fund).
For Women Employed, with our history of protecting and enforcing equal employment practices, working to pass FMLA was a natural fit.
Between 1984 and 1993, WE submitted joint testimony with national groups and appeared as guest experts on television and radio programs. After FMLA was signed on February 5, 1993, WE began a campaign to educate the public and employers about the provisions of the new law. Since going into effect, the FMLA has been used more than 100 million times.
Law Doesn’t Go Far Enough
The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave. Employees are eligible for the FMLA if they have worked for at least one year, and for 1250 hours over the previous 12 months.
But this leaves about half of the workforce uncovered, and for those who are covered, too many cannot make use of FMLA because they can’t afford to lose their paycheck while on leave. Women Employed supports strengthening the legislation so that ALL workers are covered, and so that workers have access to paid leave and paid sick days.
As Anne Ladky, Executive Director of Women Employed, says, “We are so proud to have been involved in passing this historic legislation, but we won’t stop working until the job is done, and ALL workers can take paid leave to care for themselves or their families.”
Women Employed is a 40-year-old non-profit organization that promotes fair workplace practices, helps increase access to training and education, and provides women with innovative tools and information to move into careers paying family-supporting wages. For more information, visit www.womenemployed.org, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.