FMLA’s 25th anniversary prompts new leave legislation
- By Sherkiya Wedgeworth
- Feb 07, 2018
Twenty-five years ago this month, then President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill that requires certain employers to provide unpaid medical leave to employees, and on its anniversary, new legislation has been introduced that would create a program to make that leave paid.
Before the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave, women routinely lost their jobs when they took time off for childbirth and often risked their own health by returning to work too soon in order to protect their jobs. The law later expanded to cover caregivers of sick family members.
According to the Department of Labor, “FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.”
Now, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said it’s time for a paid family and medical leave program. He is co-sponsoring the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It creates a program that would provide up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious health condition, birth or adoption of a child, or family medical emergency.
The United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave program, and only 14 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer. Without a national paid family leave program, the U.S. economy loses almost $21 billion a year, women lose $324,000 and men lose $284,000 in wages and retirement benefits over a lifetime, and American businesses incur an additional 20 percent cost to recruit and retrain new workers replacing others who left because they did not have paid leave.
“New Mexicans should not face the impossible choice of caring for their health and family or keeping their job,” said Sen. Heinrich said in a statement. “Yet, the reality is that hard working people in New Mexico and across the country have to make this decision if they need medical treatment or if they have to take care of a newborn or sick parent. Meanwhile, the lack of a paid leave program strains employers and the economy. The FAMILY Act will ensure families and businesses have the stability and economic security they need to succeed.”
The program would be created through a shared fund that makes paid leave affordable for employers of all sizes, according to the statement, which also notes that the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave program, and only 14 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.