Today, we recognize and celebrate the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the nation’s first leave law, enacted February 5, 1993. It provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to care for yourself or a seriously ill family member, to welcome a new child into your life or manage during some military deployments. By current estimates, it has been used more than 400 million times and has made a difference for young families just starting out, those in the sandwich generation who care for both children and parents and folks who need time to recover from serious illnesses like cancer.
Among those who are eligible, FMLA has a high utilization rate, but almost half of private sector employees aren’t eligible. The law only covers employers with 50 or more employees and eligible workers must have been employed for 12 months (not consecutive) and worked 1,250 hours within a 12-month period prior to taking leave.
But one of the most significant barriers to use of FMLA is that it is unpaid. Many workers who need time to care cannot afford to take FMLA leave. There’s a racial and ethnic gap in who can use it, as well. Last year, Diversity Data Kids reported that those eligible for FMLA by both their employment status and the ability to afford unpaid leave included 46% of White workers, but only 41% Black, 37% Hispanic non-immigrant, and 27% Hispanic immigrant.
Over the past 30 years, the limitations in FMLA have spurred the fight for comprehensive paid family and medical leave. The FMLA30 Grid above is a recognition of both the law that catapulted a movement and the ongoing fight for paid leave. It acknowledges the 12 states, including the District of Columbia, that have passed comprehensive paid family and medical leave laws (PFML); the various reasons why people need leave; and some of the numbers that drive our fight.
The FMLA Grid also lifts up the voices of a few of our many champions for both expanded FMLA and PFML. These champions include Congressional leaders Rosa DeLauro and Kirsten Gillibrand, who introduce the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMILY Act) each year and vow to never give up until we have a paid leave system, and Representative Judy Chu, who voted for CA’s paid leave law as a state legislator and is now a powerful voice on the House Ways and Means Committee. Also, Congressional leaders Steven Horsford and Jamaal Bowman, who are driven by their fight for racial, gender and economic equality, and Congressman Jimmy Gomez, whose personal story and commitment to PFML inspired him to launch the Congressional Dads Caucus.