Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Wednesday, introducing a bill that extends unpaid leave for family or medical problems to millions of US working men and women. Under the current FMLA, only employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide their employees with 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. However, under Dodd’s Family Leave Expansion Act, the mandate expands to employers having at least 25 employees and also allows leave for domestic violence issues. In addition, the bill establishes a $400 million pilot grant program to help states develop programs making six of the 12 weeks of leave partially or fully paid.
“Family leave is literally a lifeline to those struggling to keep their head above water when it comes to increased job and family responsibilitiesÉ This measure can help build upon that success by ensuring that more families are able to access the critically important benefits of family and medical leave,” said Sen. Dodd in a press release statement.
Passed in 1993 as a result of vigorous lobbing and work by the women’s rights community, the FMLA is a key step towards women’s equality in the workplace because it allows women, who are still overwhelmingly responsible for family care, to address their family obligations without losing their jobs.
The Feminist Majority Foundation joins the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) in calling for paid family leave benefits. Although the FMLA has assisted over 35 million Americans in protecting their jobs, still too many women and men cannot afford to take the time off. A 2000 Department of Labor national survey reported that over 75% of employees who did not take needed leave listed lost pay as the primary reason, according to the NPWF.
The United States is one of few developed nations that does not offer some form of paid parental leave. Approximately 127 countries offer compensation to parents, while many others have passed similar laws to compensate workers who need time off because of family emergencies. “We as a nation love to talk about ourselves as a family-friendly nation, but when it comes to having the policies in place to live up to that we often fall short,” Lichtman told the Los Angeles Times.
The Supreme Court is currently reviewing Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, a case debating whether state governments are exempt from provisions of FMLA.