Expanding Coverage For FMLA

In February of 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As stated on the Department of Labor (DOL) website:

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

FMLA’s protections for employees include the right to receive benefits while on leave for self or a family member. Also, the right to return to your job once your leave has concluded. In 2015, the DOL amended the definitions of “spouse” to include legal same-sex marriages. Most recently, in 2020 temporarily providing provisions to employees being impacted by the global pandemic.

On the surface, FMLA has proven to be a useful asset to many families. Its gender-neutral approach in the language recognizes that caregiving can be the responsibility of any gender in a household. Nevertheless, FMLA has identified some prerequisites that may limit access to those benefits. For an individual to access their state-action support they must fulfill the following:

  • A person must be employed at a covered employer with 50 or more employees within 75 miles in the private sector.
  • Work at least 1250 hours in a 12 month period (does not include any paid time off).

According to NationalPartnerships.org,  a study was conducted in 2018  discovered that FMLA covered only 56% of American workers. This same study showed that the lack of coverage also impacted racial/ethnic groups. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analyzed data from the US Bureau of Labor statics and found that only 13% of Americans in the private sector had any access to paid family leave.

While FMLA has provided gains to families, gaps in coverage may have a disparate impact on women in general and at various intersections (race, marital status, economic status). A little less than half of American workers are covered. There should be enough coverage for all American workers. At the same time, more employers are providing leave for the family. FMLA is still legally unpaid; EPI noted that 45% of eligible employees did not leave because they could not afford the unpaid time off. The 1250 hours in a 12 month period is also exclusive; it would take approximately 31.5 weeks in a calendar year for a person to fulfill that obligation. Anyone seeking a job after the first trimester may not have access to benefits. It seems unethical to hire a qualified candidate and then have them wait to access benefits; I assume such clauses are in place to protect the business. Finally, the 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius appear dated in this era of technology. The rationale for this geographic limitation seems to be aligned with the FMLA’s passage in 1993.

I think FMLA should be revised to expand its coverage. If given more time to investigate, I would probably find that black single women are significantly impacted more than others. FMLA should consider fewer protections for businesses by removing the 50 employees in a 75-mile radius and 1250 hours worked clause.  FMLA should also consider paid time off. I realize that can be expensive; however, other countries can do so. While this was not covered in this blog, some research indicates that the longer a woman takes leave, the less likely they will advance in their careers. I do not know if this is purely related to FMLA however, I think this matter should also be addressed.

As a leader in education, I need to continue to educate myself on FMLA. I believe there are things I can do in my current work environment. I can proactively create plans for advancement for any employee regardless if they are taking leave or not. I can express my concerns to the Staff Senate committee to advocate for better protection. I also think about my ethical responsibility when a potential candidate discloses their childbirth or family concerns.  I need to understand FMLA fully, so I can discuss benefits and alternative measures to support employees.

This was not a deep dive into FMLA. In general, these are just observations I made. I found difficulty finding the rationale that supported such decisions around the 50 employees within 75 miles limit and the 1250 hours worked in 12 months. I do have my assumptions. I am somewhat intrigued by this topic and will consider this in future class writings.

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