Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Anniversary, FMLA!

On February 5, 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (Yeah, I’m a few days late with the anniversary wishes – I blame the puppy). J

FMLA provides unpaid protected leave to eligible employees employed by a business with 50 or more employees.  Specifically, the Department of Labor defines the FMLA as follows:

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:

·         Twelve work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

o   the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;

o   the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;

o   to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;

o   a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;

o   any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or

o   Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

According to the Department of Labor, the “findings and purpose” of this revolutionary leave act was to “balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.”  

Twenty years ago, the President and Congress recognized that the majority of caregiving roles fell to women and these caregiving responsibilities affected women in the workplace more than they did men, therefore one purpose of the FMLA was to “promote the goal of equal employment opportunity for women and men.”

While the majority of caregiving responsibilities do fall to women, that has even changed over the years as more men become primary caregivers.

In a 1997 study, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP showed the face of caregiving looking like this:

o   There were more than 22 million caregiving households;

o   73% of caregivers were women;

o   23% care for more than one person;

o   85% of caregivers care for a relative; (Robert’s Sister note: the specific relatives were not broken down in this study);

o   64% of caregivers were employed;

By 2009, a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP shows the changing world of caregiving:

o   65 million caregivers provide care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged;

o   66% of caregivers are women;

o   33% of caregivers take care of more than one person;

o   86% of caregivers care for a relative; 33% of caregivers care for a parent. The rest care for a child, in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, spouse or other relative or friend;

o   73% of caregivers were employed at some time when they were caregiving;

o   Among the working caregivers, two-thirds have needed to revise their work schedule in order to take care of caregiving responsibilities;

The number of caregivers exploded over those years, with an increase in the number of working caregivers and those caregivers caring for more than one person.
It is obvious many of those being cared for do not meet the definition of family under FMLA: there are caregivers providing care to grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and adult children (who are not dependents) in addition to those who care for a spouse, parent or dependent child.
In order to keep up with the growing caregiving population – and keep those growing numbers of caregivers in the workforce – FMLA needs to change.
Keep in mind, FMLA is an UNPAID protected leave. 
Would a paid leave help family caregivers stay in the workforce longer?  Of course.  However, as an employer, I understand this could be a strain on employers so I am not asking for that (okay, not yet). 
What I’d like to see changed in the near future is an expanded definition of family.  Why not include siblings, in-laws, grandparents, domestic partners, adult children (non-dependents) and grandchildren? 
What I would like to see changed is a lower employer threshold.  Why not allow eligibility to those employed by businesses that have fewer than 50 employees?
FMLA needs to expand the definition of family and FMLA needs to lower the threshold of the minimum number of employees in a business to qualify for coverage. Many states have taken steps on their own to address these limitations within FMLA. 
California is one state which has made strides in changing the definition of family under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) by including domestic partners but has stopped short of including any other type of family care.  Legislation has been introduced the last few years to expand the definition of family under CFRA but, unfortunately, has not yet succeeded.
I would like to see change in the definition of family on both the national and state level of these family leave acts.
I am grateful for what President Clinton did twenty years ago for the working family caregiver but it is time to recognize caregiving responsibilities have changed and include more than what was envisioned in 1993. 
I hope you had a nice anniversary, FMLA.
Now let’s make some changes.

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I have a daughter in school now but I got only a little time off after I got pregnant and when she was born. As I worked for a very small business with only a few employees at the time the owner just couldn't afford to give too much. Now I do have a job with decent benefits and get much more time as well as being married now and having the option of being on my husband's insurance. I'm just very grateful to my Mom and Mother-in-law for helping out and babysitting so we didn't have to put her in daycare.