FMLA Celebrates a Big Anniversary Amid Calls to Expand the Hallmark Legislation

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the historic legislation – FMLA – that gave American workers protected leave for family and medical reasons.

With passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, workers  could, for the first time, take unpaid leave without the fear of losing their jobs or group health insurance coverage. The Department of Labor boasts that under FMLA, the Wage and Hour Division has helped 18,000 workers who were unjustly terminated and 13,000 who were denied FMLA leave, while recovering $63 million in back wages for affected workers.

No wonder there have been celebrations of the anniversary, including by President Joe Biden and the Department of Labor. As lawmakers reflect on the positive effects of FMLA over the past 30 years, new efforts are underway in Congress to expand and modernize the law.

As currently written, FMLA provides eligible employees 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • The birth of a child/to care for the newborn child within one year of birth
  • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job
  • Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”

Additionally, the law provides 26 work weeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin.

To qualify for FMLA, employees must have (1) worked for their employer for at least one year; (2) worked at least 1,250 hours for their employer in the past year; and (3) work for an employer that has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

That final point is one that several House and Senate Democrats would like to eliminate. At a press conference celebrating the 30th anniversary, they announced the reintroduction of the Job Protection Act, which would end the 50-employee/75-mile rule and provide FMLA benefits to an additional 35 million workers.

Additionally, Democrats reintroduced the ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act, which would extend FMLA benefits to about 2.7 million education support professionals.

Separately, Senator Kristen Gillibrand and others announced the reintroduction of paid family leave, in which parents and caregivers could get 12 weeks of paid leave. Gillibrand said the modernized FMLA would be gender-neutral, which would allow fathers the chance to stay home and care for their children.

We will be monitoring whether any of these bills become law – and what that could mean for employers. Regardless, FMLA continues to play a major role in America’s workplaces as it enters its fourth decade.