When you are welcoming a new baby, caring for an ill family member, or struggling with an illness yourself, your job is probably the last thing on your mind. Family challenges sometimes require our undivided attention, even if that means taking some time off work. This reality was addressed twenty years ago, when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law. Since 1993, the FMLA has helped thousands of American workers by allowing them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves and their families, secure in the knowledge that their jobs would be waiting for them when they came back.
In 2008, the FMLA was expanded to cover the families of service members. The new provisions allow family members of wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans to take unpaid leave to care for them. Families of service members deployed overseas are also eligible to take unpaid leave in some circumstances. The expansion of the law has benefited many military families. As one spouse of a wounded veteran says, “It has been really a huge relief to know my job is protected but I can use the days as needed for his care.”
However, not every military family affected by deployment, illness, or injury is able to take advantage of the FMLA. To be eligible, an individual must have been employed by his or her employer for at least 12 months. Smaller companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the Act. And some families of seriously wounded service members find that recovery takes longer than the 26 weeks of unpaid leave allowed under the FMLA, which forces them to quit their jobs.
February 5 is the 20th anniversary of the passage of the FMLA — a chance to look back on how the law has helped families and where it has fallen short. The National Partnership for Women and Families is collecting stories from people who have used leave to care for a new or adopted child, a sick family member, their own serious health condition, or to address a family member’s military deployment. They also want to hear from people who haven’t been able to rely on the FMLA’s protections because they weren’t covered by the law or couldn’t afford to take leave without pay.
Do you have a story to share about the FMLA? Visit the National Partnership for Women and Families’ Story Collection Survey and tell them about your experiences – or leave a comment below.