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, more than 40% of 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.
In 2015, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut are again introducing legislation into Congress that, when passed, would finally establish a program of paid family leave in the U.S. The proposed bill, called the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), would pick up where the FMLA left off by creating an insurance program—funded by joint contributions from workers and employers—to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. The program would be administered through the Social Security Administration, and would cover all workers who are eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The FAMILY Act would provide crucial support to families struggling to care for a new baby or a sick relative. Read more about the FAMILY Act, and urge your representatives in Washington to pass this long-overdue bill.
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 May 2015 report, Investing in Our Families: The Case for Paid Family Leave in New York and the Nation.
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).Click here to learn more about paid family leave in California.
Following in California's footsteps, the State of New Jersey enacted a law to provide workers with paid family leave in 2008. 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 went effect on January 1, 2014.
Legislation has been introduced in both the New York State Senate (S3004) and the Assembly (A3870) to 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. Paid family leave may also be used to address certain needs related to a family member’s military service or deployment. Prior paid family leave bills passed the New York State Assembly in 2005, 2007, 2014, and 2015.
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 program. Stay tuned for updates as we work toward passing paid family leave in 2016!
To learn more about the New York State Paid Family Leave campaign — including fact sheets, reports, stories, and ways to get involved, click here!
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. 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 previously created a fact sheet to explain why this bill is so important to Washington's LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities.
A coalition is working to advance paid family and medical leave in Connecticut. The coalition's website includes its legislative recommendations and an update on the paid family and medical leave bill.
In 2013, elected officials in Connecticut passed a law to establish a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Task Force. The task force, which was chaired and convened by Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, studied the feasibility of establishing a family and medical leave insurance program. The task force report on its findings are available here.
In May 2015, a campaign launched in Washington, D.C., to pass a paid family and medical leave law. To learn more about the campaign and to get involved, click here.
In 2013, elected officials in New Hampshire passed a law establishing a commission to study the establishment of a paid family leave insurance program.
Check out these websites to learn about additional state paid family and medical leave insurance campaigns and activities:
A Better Balance and the National Partnership for Women and Families have developed a model state paid family leave law. Please contact us for more information, especially since we are in the process of updating this document.