Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants job-protected sick leave to those who are recovering or taking care of someone recovering from an illness or those who have had a new child.
The FMLA was signed into law on February 5, 1993 by President Bill Clinton and is still the only piece of legislation designed to help workers manage the balance between work and family life. Under the FMLA, workers can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid sick leave in order to raise a new child within one year of birth or adoption; care for a spouse, child or family member with serious injury or illness; recover from a serious injury or illness; or receive up to twenty-six work weeks within a year when caring for a family member with a serious illness in the military (“military caregiver leave”). In 2010, the FMLA was expanded to include LGBTQ parents as well as relatives who act as primary caregivers. And in 2012, the Department of Labor changed the FMLA to include up to 12 weeks of exigency leave to assist a relative in the armed forces who is deployed on short notice in order to handle financial, legal, or childcare resulting from the deployment.
Despite the multiple gains of the FMLA, nearly half of all families who qualify for medical leave do not take it because they cannot afford [PDF] to take unpaid leave. In fact, according to Bureau of Labor statistics for 2011, 36% of all Americans age 25 -34 and 71% of Americans 15 – 24 did not have any paid sick leave.