February 21, 2018

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Celebrating 25 years

Twenty-five years ago this month, then President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill that requires certain employers to provide unpaid medical leave to employees who qualify. It was an important step in granting American workers comfort that they did not have to worry about losing their job in order to take time off to care for newborns, sick loved ones or themselves when seriously ill.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL),

“FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.”

The FMLA was introduced in Congress every year from 1984 to 1993 but was blocked repeatedly. Congress eventually passed the legislation in 1991 and 1992 — only for it to be vetoed both times by President George H.W. Bush. It wasn’t until newly-elected Bill Clinton came into office that the FMLA was signed into legislation…the first piece of legislation signed by President Clinton.

In Fiscal Year 2008, the FMLA was amended by the National Defense Authorization Act, adding two special provisions for military leave entitlement. The first provision permits an eligible employee who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of a current servicemember with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty on active duty to take up to 26 workweeks of FMLA leave during a single 12-month period to care for the servicemember (military caregiver leave). The second allows an eligible employee whose spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a member of the National Guard or Reserves to take up to 12 workweeks of leave for qualifying exigencies arising out of the military member’s active duty or call to active duty in support of a contingency operation (qualifying exigency leave).

It is estimated that in the past 25 years, FMLA has been used more than 200 million times by mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and sons and daughters all across the country.

But the Family and Medical Leave Act is far from perfect, nor does it address all of the needs workers have.

Because it is unpaid leave, many workers cannot afford to take the leave even when they need to – in fact, nearly half of those who qualified for the leave but did not take it said that was due to financial reasons.

And about four-in-ten workers do not qualify for FMLA leave in the first place, since it is restricted to workers who have been employed at their current job for at least a year, have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the 12 months before their leave is to begin, and who work for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

In recognition of the strain that unpaid leave places on families, as of January 2018, employers now earn a tax credit when voluntarily providing paid FMLA leave. The credit will range from 12.5 to 25% of the cost of each hour of paid leave, depending on how much of a worker’s regular earnings the benefit replaces.

The federal government will cover 12.5 percent of the benefit’s costs if workers receive half of their regular earnings, increasing up to 25 percent if workers receive their entire regular earnings.

This tax credit will be available in tax years 2018 and 2019. Legislators could potentially make the program permanent after the 2019 tax year.

It should be interesting to see what the next 25 years brings and how legislators will change or try to change the law. Many states have passed laws requiring employers provide employees with paid medical leave, so could the DOL follow their lead and require that some portion of FMLA be paid? Time will tell.

The DOL provides many resources for both employers and employees with regard to FLMA. To read more about FMLA topics of interest, visit the DOL website at www.dol.gov and search FMLA.

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