Posted: March 24th, 2023

We are Not Acting Yet: Family and Medical Leave Act

Overview

Workplace benefits can balance family, work, and medical needs. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows workers to take a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year following personal illness or that of a close member of the family while still in employment (Hayes 3). This law was updated in 2008 to increase the unpaid leave to 26 weeks for the workers, their spouse, children, parents, and the next of kin of members of the military who undergo severe injury (Dove et al. 298). Hence, FMLA offers protection for all eligible workers in the U.S.

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FMLA does not apply to all employees in the U.S. Workers are eligible for family and medical leave after working for at least 1,250 hours within 12 months. Besides, they must be employed by an entity with 50 or more workers in a 75-mile radius. The employee can consider an intermittent leave, which entails taking the family and medical leave in time blocks or reducing schedule at work for a certain period (Lopez and Blair 7). An employee can choose a part-time job instead of full-time work.

One objective of FMLA is to grant employees the flexibility to attend to personal demands. However, the act does not have a provision for employers to pay workers during a medical leave. Hence, it becomes a challenge for low-wage employees as they struggle to survive (Hayes 3). Thus, taking a leave to connect with the loved ones may become a financial burden.

Employees working for smaller entities are at a disadvantage since the legislation covers firms with at least 50 workers. According to Hayes, only 59% of employees in the U.S. are entitled to the leave; hence, 41% risk losing their jobs if they take it for medical or family reasons (3). Notably, the law offers job protection to eligible employees only.

Unpaid family and medical leave face several limitations. As a result, some states, such as New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California, have initiated a Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) scheme that offers partial wage replacement for workers during medical leave (Hayes 3). California was the first state to adopt paid family leave policy in the year 2002, with 6-week paid leave in case of childbirth or to care for a sick family member. New York State was the last to adopt this paid medical leave in 2016, where employees receive up to 12-week paid leave (Hayes 3). Thus, this shows that it is possible to fill the gaps left by FMLA through amendment of state policies.

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Family and Medical Leave Act offer security for many employees, especially women, during childbirth. However, due to the absence of benefits, they are left without income during maternity leave. The situation is worse for women in low wage employment since they have limited access to the benefits of private maternity leave in their workplace. Khan et al. indicate that more than half of workers who take medical leaves under FMLA face financial challenges, and hence, they may terminate their leave (3). In other cases, women in low-income bracket turn to other welfare programs, such as Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) (Khan et al. 3), to supplement wages during childbirth.

Opinion Statements

FMLA does not recognize modern family units’ challenges, such as assisted reproduction. For instance, Congress seeks to ensure that employees caring for children are entitled to the medical leave whether the child is biologically or legally related (Shute 96). However, this act may fail to address cases where parents lose a child at birth. FMLA should be amended to include all parents after birth, even after losing a child. Besides, surrogates, birth mothers, and adoptive parents are categories of relations with varying circumstances and needs. Hence, maternity leave options should be customized accordingly.

The no-pay medical leave policy still exists despite increased public outcry for paid leave. A paid medical leave will enhance gender equity by extending rights to fathers and mothers to obtain 12-week paid leave (Whittmore and Nunn 108). In addition to the payment, other adjustments to the policy should protect jobs during leave days, widen eligibility of beneficiaries, especially those with fewer employment histories, and initiate a wage replacement rate to enhance coverage.

As evident from the discussion, the United States is lagging behind most developed countries in regards to protecting workers with caregiving responsibilities. For instance, the U.S. is the only industrialized country without national paid leave. More so, other than in situations of birth, employees can only request for leave to care for others if the illness is regarded as severe under the statute of FMLA. Hence, it indicates that other ongoing diseases, such as injury, are not applicable. Overall, FMLA is limited in providing family and medical protection of employees and needs amendments.

 

Work Cited

Dove, Laura et al. “An Overview of Recent Appellate Court Decisions on the Family and Medical Leave Act: Guidance for Employers.” Labor Law Journal, vol. 67, no. 1, 2016, pp. 298-316.

Hayes, Jeffrey. “Costs and Benefits of Family and Medical Leave for New Hampshire Workers.” Institute of Women Research, January 6, 2017, pp. 1-27. www.dol.gov/wb/media/NH_Final_Report_2015_Final_Report.pdf. Accessed 9 Apr. 2019.

Khan, Ji Young et al. “The Effect of State Paid Maternity Leave on TANF and SNAP use”  University of Washington, November 6, 2016, pp. 1-20. www.dol.gov/wb/media/WA_Paid_Leave_UW_Final_Report_SNAP_TANF.pdf. Accessed 9 Apr. 2019.

Lopez, Patricio and Blair Samantha. “Coordinating Family and Medical Leave.” Nursing Management, vol. 49, no. 3, 2018, pp. 7-8. doi:10.1097/01.NUMA.0000530431.99269.75

Shute,  Rachel. “ Family and Medical Leave: Examining Recovery and Bonding Time to Promote Healthy Families who Utilize Surrogacy.” Family Law Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 95-116.

Whittmore, Diane and Nunn Ryann. “Driving Growth through Women Participation.” New York, NY, Hamilton project, 2017.

 

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