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FMLA at 20, Ensuring Low-Wage Workers Also Benefit from Benefits

February 11, 2013 at 11:35 am by: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Workers' Rights

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From Spotlight on Poverty:

The FMLA was the first piece of federal legislation intended to help workers manage their commitments to both their employers and their families, and Clinton campaigned on a pledge to sign the law. Unfortunately, 20 years have passed since that historic moment, and no additional work-family legislation has made its way onto the books. And while the FMLA was an important first step, there is still work to be done, especially for low-wage workers. Now is the time to extend the legacy by providing paid leave for all working Americans.

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows some individuals the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in order to recover from a serious illness or injury, provide care to a newborn, newly adopted, or newly placed foster child, provide care to a seriously ill family member, or to deal with a qualifying exigency resulting from a family member who is an active duty member of the armed services. While the FMLA does not guarantee income while on leave or provide any form of wage replacement, it does ensure that benefits such as health insurance are continued while the worker is away from his or her job.

Because FMLA leave is unpaid, many are unable to benefit from the policy even when they are covered by the law and experience a qualifying life event, such as the birth of a new baby or the serious illness of a loved one. According to Department of Labor data released this month, which details both employers’ and employees’ experiences with FMLA, about half of those who needed leave but did not take it said that they kept coming to work because they could not afford to take unpaid time off.

Many individuals who take leave are able to receive at least partial pay while they are out, most often by utilizing a combination of sick leave and vacation days. But about a third of those who take FMLA leave do not receive any pay while they are out. These individuals are disproportionately likely to be low-wage workers who have decreased access to workplace benefits like paid family leave, paid sick leave, and paid vacation.

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