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Celebrating The 20Th Anniversary Of The Family Medical Leave Act

Rep. Jan Schakowsky

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Mr. Speaker, I rise in honor of the Family Medical Leave Act. Twenty years ago today, we took an important step to protecting workers that need to take time off to deal with a serious health or family issue. Since then, American workers have used FMLA leave more than 100 million times to address a serious health condition, including pregnancy; to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or to care for a newborn child, newly adopted child or a newly placed foster child. FMLA allows workers to take time from work to care for themselves or their loved ones without jeopardizing their jobs. FMLA does not a salary during the leave--an omission that needs to be corrected--but it does guarantee their job will be there when they return.

In recent years, President Obama has signed into law expansions of FMLA coverage to our brave women and men serving in our armed forces and airline employees. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 expanded FMLA leave for military families to include coverage of qualifying exigency leave to employees and families in the Regular Armed Forces, and coverage of military caregiver leave to employees who are a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of certain veterans with a serious illness or injury. The Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act makes more airline flight attendants and crew members eligible for FMLA leave.

Yet, despite those expansions, the United States lags behind other countries. A total of 137 countries mandate employers to offer paid leave, while 121 countries guarantee workers at least two weeks of paid leave each year. The absence of a paid leave requirement forces many Americans to choose between protecting their finances and taking time off to deal with a serious health or family crisis. Many of the employees who qualify for FMLA leave cannot financially afford to take leave without pay. 78 percent of employees who wanted to take FMLA leave, but did not, reported it was because they could not afford to lose those extra paychecks. Hardworking Americans--both men and woman--should be free to take the family and medical leave they need without fear of emptying their bank account.

The Family Medical Leave Act took an important step in ensuring workers that their jobs will be secure in the event that they need to take time off to deal with a serious health or family issue but we can and must do more. We must ensure that every job provides paid leave in times of sickness or family emergency.