Toasting the Family & Medical Leave Act’s Birthday

Join Nichols Kaster in wishing the Family Medical Leave Act a happy birthday. The FMLA, which guarantees workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work in the event of a serious illness, a family member’s serious illness, or the birth or adoption of a child, was signed into law by President Clinton 20 years ago this month - on February 5, 1993.

The FMLA is widely used by American employees, and is often credited with changing the conversation about work-life balance in the workplace.  Large employers generally have more transparent leave policies.  Employees of large employers no longer need to worry about their job security when deciding whether to take family or medical leave: the FMLA guarantees an employee’s reinstatement after FMLA leave, and prohibits employer retaliation when an employee exercises his or her FMLA rights.  And despite original outcry from conservative legislators and the business community, most employers agree that the FMLA is a success.  According to a recent survey released by the Department of Labor, 91 percent of responding employers reported that the FMLA had either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on employee absenteeism, or morale.  Only 15% of employers reported having difficulty complying with the FMLA.

The FMLA has remained largely stagnant throughout its first two decades.  Besides a 2008 amendment which adds protected leave for qualifying exigencies in military families, efforts to expand the FMLA have stalled.  For example, bills that would amend the FMLA to require leave for the loss of a child, attendance at children’s educational functions, and victims of domestic violence have not made it past congressional committees.  Attempts to add provisions for paid leave have also failed.

Therefore, as it progresses into adulthood, the FMLA has a lot of room for growth.  Perhaps in recognition of this potential, Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin celebrated the FMLA’s birthday by announcing the re-introduction of the Healthy Families Act, which would amend the FMLA to allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid leave.  Cheers, FMLA, to an important two decades and to several more.

For additional information regarding your rights under the FMLA, please click here.