man with newborn child

Groundbreaking Only Lasts So Long

20 years ago today, the Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law. Haven’t heard of it? Well you’ve probably heard of its benefits, which allow eligible workers to take unpaid time off to:

  • Care for a new child (including adopted and foster children)
  • Care for a sick child
  • Act as a caregiver for a parent
  • Address personal serious health concerns
  • Care for wounded service members

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was groundbreaking. In 20 years it has been used over 100 million times to allow workers to take needed time off. The Department of Labor has concluded in a study released this week that, in short, “the FMLA is working.” Here’s how:

–         The FMLA helps employees: For nearly all employers (91%), the FMLA has had either a positive or no effect on employee absence, turnover and morale.

–         Compliance is easy: 85% of employers report that compliance is very easy or not noticeable at all.

–         Misuse is rare: Less than 3% of all sites suspect misuse, and fewer than 2% confirmed it.

Our task now is to build on the FMLA’s successes and address its shortcomings. The FMLA only covers business with at least 50 employees, which means it excludes 40% of the workforce. The “family” of Family and Medical Leave excludes same-sex spouses, grandchildren and grandparents, siblings, parents-in-law, and siblings.

The FMLA was groundbreaking twenty years ago. Not today. Can we tolerate excluding people from our “families” because they do not fit a legislative definition? Can we allow workers to not receive basic accommodations because of the size of their workplace? The Torah emphasizes the importance of fairness to workers (Deuteronomy 24:14). Do we?


Image courtesy of National Partnership for Women and Families.

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Raechel Banks

About Raechel Banks

Raechel Banks is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She grew up in Dallas, TX, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. She recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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