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Family and Medical Leave Act is 20 years old: can we improve it?

We have written many times about the importance of the protections offered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA has protected the jobs of countless employees when they needed to take an extended period of work leave to address family or medical concerns. Some common reasons for leave include long-term personal illness or the illness of a family member and the birth or adoption of a child.

Last week, the Family and Medical Leave Act celebrated its 20th birthday. And while we can all be grateful for this important piece of legislation, we know that it is far from perfect. Critics in South Florida and across the country argue that the FMLA needs to be expanded to cover more workers and give more comprehensive coverage of all employees.

The first major pitfall of the FMLA is that the leave it provides is unpaid. While job protection during extended leave is very important, the sad fact is that most workers who qualify for and desperately need to take FMLA leave cannot do so because they can't afford it. By some estimates, as many as 78 percent of eligible workers don't take advantage of FMLA leave due to financial constraints.

Another problem with the FMLA is that it doesn't cover enough workers. Only about half of U.S. employees are eligible for FMLA leave. The rest don't qualify for a number of reasons related to their job status, including:

  • Working less than full time
  • Working for a company that is too small to offer FMLA leave
  • Not working long enough for a given company to be eligible for leave

The FMLA is an important workplace protection that has helped countless Americans to weather the struggles of health and family issues without fear of losing their job. Now that it has been in place for 20 years, perhaps it is time to start talking about how we can improve and expand FMLA protections for more American workers.

Source: Huffington Post, "FMLA Anniversary: Celebrating 20 Years of Strengthening Families," Linda Meric, Feb. 4, 2013

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