The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed back in 1993, was an important milestone in then-president Bill Clinton’s first term. The idea was to strike a better balance between the demands of the workplace and family responsibilities.
The law attempts to achieve that balance by allowing up to 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave during any given year for certain purposes. It allows employees to take the time off if they need it in order to recover from a serious illness or injury, or to be the caregiver for a spouse, child, or parent who is recuperating and needs care. The leave time can also be used to care for a newborn child.
There are conditions that must be met in order for workers to qualify for this benefit. You have to have been working for your company for at least a year (twelve months) and must have put in at least 1,250 hours during that time in a location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that site. Although the law covers employees in both the private and public sectors, it excludes elected officials and their staff.
This is an important benefit because although it is unpaid leave, you at least have the peace of mind that your job will be there when you are ready to return to work.
That 50-employee threshold can and does vary by state, with some states allowing smaller worksites to be FMLA-eligible, ranging from just 10 employees in Vermont to15 employees in Maine and Maryland to 21 in Minnesota and 25 in Oregon.
Important amendments occurred to the FMLA in 2008 that served to expand the definition of family to make sure that those serving as parents to children are covered regardless of the legal or biological relationship involved. This allows same-sex couples to enjoy the benefits if they are sharing in the parenting of children.
There were also amendments made in 2008 that expanded FMLA coverage to military families by extending its protections to next of kin and adult children. This was important in terms of making sure someone who needs to care for an injured service-member who was deployed overseas could take time off, even if they aren’t in the immediate nuclear family circle of the service-member.
There are critics of the law who contend that it just allows more opportunity for people to be away from work, which means lost productivity as well as the cost of hiring replacement workers to fill the duties of those taking advantage of FMLA leave benefits.
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