What’s Happened to Family Leave? by Angie King
15 November 2011 517 views No Comment
What’s Happened to Family Leave? First passed by President Clinton in 1993, and subsequently re-affirmed and expanded by legislative and court actions, the Family Medical Leave Act provides job protections for over half of US workers, enabling them to take time off to care for a sick or newborn child, or family member. All public employees, including state workers, are covered, as are employees of businesses with at least 50 employees. 60% of U.S. workers are both covered and eligible for FMLA leave. 48% percent of covered, eligible workers are women. Approximately 80 million workers have taken job-protected leave under the FMLA. The median length of leave is 10 days and 80% of leaves are shorter than 6 weeks. Many businesses and employers, both large and small, understand the value of family and medical leave and provide it to part-time employees, for reasons beyond the mandatory ones, and even if they have fewer employees than the law requires. Also, many employers, especially larger ones, provide PAID leave for new mothers and fathers and other circumstances, thanks to a combination of union negotiations and the good sense of the business leaders. However, a recent report from the US Census indicates the share of women taking time off for pregnancy and newborn child care has leveled off, either because they cannot afford the unpaid time off (attempts to make this leave paid failed in the Bush years) or because they are not aware of the provisions of the Act (In 2000, 62% of employees in covered establishments did not know if the FMLA applied to them.). Less educated mothers are nearly 4 times as likely than college graduates to be denied that leave. According to the Census report, the economic recession is the driving factor in this drop, as families where both parents work just to survive cannot afford the loss of a paycheck. This result further highlights the lack of a unified federal policy on paid parental leave in the US. Most other developed countries are way ahead of us in this respect, as they are in other aspects of employment policy – such as a more generous holiday and vacation plan, better health care coverage, and more worker participation in labor policies. Adding the economic repercussions of taking unpaid leave for a struggling family to the generally dismal (and expensive) patchwork of health care coverage in the US, combined with the harsh policies being promulgated at the state level in bargaining rights of public workers, is a recipe for disaster. Let’s hope this next election will bring positive changes in all these areas. Check out the national NOW website (now.org) for more details. Angie King has been advocating for women in SLO County for many years, as the chapter coordinator for the National Organization for Women and until recently, as president of the Women’s Community Center.