FMLA Turns 30

But when will the US join the world and assure PAID family leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is now 30 years old. The FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to greet the birth or adoption of a child or to tend to a personal or family health emergency. By centering family needs and calling on enterprises to accommodate them, FMLA represented an important step toward a more human economic model.

But FMLA was only one step. Because FMLA only covers firms with 50 or more employees, half of the private sector workforce is excluded from its protections. And while FMLA guarantees that workers can recover their jobs after their unpaid leave, many low-income workers can’t afford to take time off. That’s why every other developed democracy offers PAID family leave to new parents. Will the US ever follow suit?

Several states and the District of Columbia already have done this. Just last year, the Catholic Labor Network joined a successful campaign to pass paid family and medical leave in the state of Maryland. In most cases, the state has funded the benefit through a very small payroll tax that included contributions from both employer and employee. It’s an ingenious solution: by spreading the cost across the entire workforce, no individual enterprise takes an inordinate economic hit.

But only a federal law can make paid family leave universally accessible. It’s high time for our nation to catch up with the rest of the world in recognizing that family comes first. FMLA was an important first step, but it’s time for America to adopt paid family and medical leave for our nation’s workers.