Family medical leave

  • Congressman Richard Neal PAUL FRANZ

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Earlier this month we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act being signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Feb. 5, 1993. This historic legislation has provided peace of mind for new parents, caregivers and families by ensuring that their loved ones are looked after, their jobs are waiting for them upon their return, and their health insurance remains intact.

The National Partnership for Women and Families, which was highly instrumental in advocating for this law since the very beginning, reports that FMLA has been used over 200 million times by American workers since its inception.

It isn’t just the worker who is able to take time to care for a newborn, recently adopted, or newly placed foster child, or a seriously ill family member, or even themselves, who benefit from this protection. The families of those who are receiving the care also benefit. Most recently, an amendment was passed granting leave to individuals to attend to situations arising from a loved one’s foreign military deployment and to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness.

On the 20th anniversary of this its passage, the Department of Labor surveyed employees and employers across the nation about the use of FMLA. Their conclusion was that it was working and had achieved a level of stability. Over 90 percent of employers reported that complying with the FMLA guidelines had either a positive or no noticeable effect on employee absenteeism, turnover or morale. And most leave is short. The study found that 42 percent of all leave events lasted 10 days or less.

What is even better is that misuse is extremely rare, with fewer than 2 percent of covered worksites reporting confirmed misuse of FMLA. The risk factor in granting FMLA time is low, too. The study shows that 90 percent of workers return to their employer after FMLA leave. These numbers prove that the FMLA is good for workers and good for employers.

Unpaid leave may seem like a non-controversial issue now but getting this type of legislation passed in Congress wasn’t necessarily an easy feat and took nine years of constant advocacy. Similar bills were vetoed under two Republican presidents before it was passed. I am proud to have been a supporter of this legislation since the beginning, voting in favor of bills of this nature in both 1990 and 1991 before the final vote in 1993.

American workers today are pressed with the challenge to balance work, life, and family commitments. We should make that easier. I am happy to be a co-sponsor of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. This legislation would provide all workers, regardless of company size, up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave time. While the FMLA is making great strides, it needs to be expanded upon and the FAMILY Act is the logical next step. In Massachusetts alone, 58 percent of working people are not covered because of miscellaneous FMLA restrictions. The FAMILY Act would change that. It would establish a first of its kind national paid leave program that would bolster the economic security of individuals and families, improve health outcomes and contribute to a stronger workforce.

As the product of a working family, I am well aware of the challenges placed before families. Choosing whether to care for a loved one or pay the bills should not be one of them.

Congressman Richard E. Neal, D-First District, is ranking member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over health issues in Congress.