This week marks the 29th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, which, when passed, was a landmark piece of legislation that extended the right to job-protected, unpaid time off work to care for oneself, for a new child, or for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent to millions of Americans. The FMLA has been used more than 300 million times, and serves as an important foundational step. But there is an urgent need to make changes to the FMLA that will ensure that all workers have the leave they need to care for themselves and all of their loved ones. Currently, only 56% of Americans are covered by this law, and the fact that the FMLA only provides unpaid leave makes it completely inaccessible to many low wage workers, for whom even a single missed paycheck can have a detrimental impact on their family’s finances.
Two years into a devastating pandemic, millions of workers are still being forced to choose between their job security and paycheck, and attending to their own health needs and those of their loved ones. The lack of access to even the most basic protections for workers who need to take time off without risking their employment disproportionately impacts people of color: the 44% of Americans not covered by the FMLA include 48% of Latinx workers, 47% of Asian American workers, and 43% of Black workers.
While various state and local governments across the country have stepped up to pass their own paid family and medical leave policies as well as paid sick time laws to protect public health and the economic security of workers, access to these lifesaving work-family protections shouldn’t depend on geographic location. As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to surge nationwide, at a minimum, it is clear that Congress must reinstate emergency paid leave provisions, which served as a lifeline for many working families in the early days of the pandemic and are needed now as much as ever. Congress must also prioritize building upon the FMLA by enacting permanent, comprehensive paid family and medical leave for every worker.
In reflecting upon the enduring impact of the FMLA, we are committed as ever to pushing for the paid leave for care that working families urgently need and deserve today.