Washington, D.C. — Twenty years ago today, former President Bill Clinton signed his first bill into law—the Family and Medical Leave Act. To mark the enactment of this vitally important legislation for America’s workforce, Sarah Jane Glynn, Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress, issued the following statement:
The Family and Medical Leave Act was an important first step in ensuring people have the right to take time off from work in order to provide care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. As we celebrate the enactment of this landmark legislation 20 years ago, we must also remember the unfortunate reality that progress in work-life legislation has stalled over the last two decades. With more than 40 percent of workers not covered by the law and no legislation in place to ensure access to paid leave, America has fallen far behind other nations in this regard. We urge our nation’s leaders to bring our workplaces into the 21st century with common-sense, family-friendly policies such as paid family and medical leave, earned sick days, and workplace flexibility.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to workers in order to recover from a serious medical condition, provide care for a seriously ill family member, or care for a new child. While no one should underestimate the positive impact the act has had on workers’ lives, it does not address all the needs workers have. Because FMLA leave is unpaid, many workers cannot afford to take the leave even when they need to—in fact, nearly 80 percent of those who qualified for the leave but did not take it said that was due to financial reasons. And only about half of the workforce qualifies for FMLA leave in the first place, since it is restricted to workers who have been employed at their current job for at least a year, have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the 12 months before their leave is to begin, and who work for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. The other half of workers who are not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to cobble together some complicated amalgamation of earned sick days or vacation time, but even access to those benefits are not guaranteed by law. The United States remains the only industrialized nation that does not offer paid maternity leave, in addition to being the only advanced economy that does not guarantee the right to earned sick days.
Today the Center for American Progress released a package of resources about the importance of work and family policies:
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