The United States stands alone among industrialized countries in failing to guarantee workers paid family leave. When a loved one has a health crisis, or when a new child is born or adopted, far too many American workers are forced to take unpaid leave or exit the workforce altogether. Low-income workers and their families are especially vulnerable as they often lack the financial resources necessary to take advantage of unpaid time off.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires employers to provide unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks for employees to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, to recover from one’s own serious health condition, or to deal with certain obligations (including childcare and related activities) arising from a spouse, parent or child being on, or called to, active duty in the military. The FMLA also provides up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave per year for workers whose spouse, child, parent or next of kin is a seriously ill or injured member of the armed services.
The FMLA has helped many working Americans balance the demands of work and family, by protecting their jobs while they take time off to recover from illness or care for loved ones. Yet the FMLA's reach is far too limited. Due to significant coverage gaps, approximately half of all workers are ineligible for FMLA leave. Furthermore, many workers who are covered by the FMLA cannot afford to take unpaid leave or do not know about their rights under the statute.
Click here to read more about the FMLA and your rights under the law.
Several states have passed family leave insurance laws that provide partial pay to workers who need time off to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill loved one. In 2002, California became the first state to guarantee paid family leave, followed by New Jersey in 2008, and Rhode Island in 2013. In each of the three states, the paid family leave program has been integrated into the state’s existing temporary disability insurance system, and workers finance the paid family leave program through small employee payroll deductions. Although neither the California nor New Jersey law provides job protection for workers who take advantage of the program, the Rhode Island law does protect workers who take time off under the law from job loss or retaliation. In California and New Jersey, some -- but not all -- workers who take advantage of family leave insurance may be protected by the FMLA or another state law that provides job protection
Washington State has also passed a law providing workers with paid family leave after the birth or adoption of a child, but implementation has been delayed until at least the fall of 2015.
To learn more about the case for family leave insurance in the United States, see our September 2013 report, Investing in Our Families: The Case for Family Leave Insurance in New York and the Nation.
In July 2013, the United States Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2014 bill that includes $5 million for a State Paid Leave Fund. The fund would provide planning and implementation grants to states that wish to establish paid family leave programs. A Better Balance urges the full Senate and House of Representatives to act quickly and approve this bill.
Research has demonstrated the success of California’s paid family leave program and its positive impact on families and business. For an overview, see Leaves That Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman (Center for Economic and Policy Research, January 2011).
Following in California's footsteps, the State of New Jersey has enacted a law to provide workers with paid family leave. A Better Balance has developed a comprehensive guide to family leave insurance in New Jersey. Click here to access the guide and to get additional details regarding New Jersey's Paid Family Leave Insurance law.
On July 23, 2013, Rhode Island became the third state to adopt an insurance program to provide workers with income support when they have a new child or need to care for a seriously ill family member. Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program will go into effect on January 1, 2014.
In the most recent legislative session, the Family Leave Insurance Act (A.6289/S.7547) was introduced in both the New York State Assembly and Senate. This critical legislation would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave—financed through small employee payroll contributions—to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. A family leave insurance bill passed the New York State Assembly in 2005 and 2007.
A Better Balance and a diverse coalition of community organizations, unions, businesses, early childhood advocates, women's, senior and LGBT groups are committed to making New York State the fourth state in the country with a family leave insurance program. Stay tuned for updates as we prepare for the 2013-2014 legislative session and a renewed campaign to pass the Family Leave Insurance Act!
|Investing in Our Families: The Case for Family Leave Insurance in New York and the Nation||Sept. 2013|
|Family Leave Insurance: Benefiting New York Businesses and Supporting Employees' Needs||Jan. 2013|
|Family Leave Insurance: Supporting Working Families When They Need It Most (Stories by working New Yorkers about the need for family leave insurance.)||June 2012|
|Family Leave Insurance: A Priority for Working Families in New York||May 2012|
|Supporting LGBT Families: The Need for Family Leave Insurance in New York||Nov. 2011|
|A Working Balance: Supporting New York City's Families Through Paid Leave (Report with Manhattan Borough President)||Jan. 2008|
Washington passed a law in 2006 that will guarantee workers up to five weeks a year of paid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. Without a clear funding route, implementation of the program has been delayed until at least the fall of 2015. However, advocates in Washington are proposing a bill that would expand and fund the current program; in addition to providing leave to care for a new child, an expanded program would provide leave for a worker’s own serious health condition or to care for a seriously ill loved one. We created a fact sheet to explain why this bill is so important to Washington's LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities.
For more information on the Oregon campaign for paid family leave, please visit the website of Time to Care for Oregon Families.