Although what is deemed a “normal” household and family structure continues to change, when we think of what we consider immediate family, most of us think refer to who we grew up with – our parents and siblings. In many cases, our siblings are often our first, closest and most permanent friends. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor affectionately writes in her memoir, “I love my brother. He knows me in ways the rest of the world never could. We’ve always watched out for each other.”[i]
As much as siblings are an essential part of the common perception of “family,” the job protections of FMLA are limited to caring for a parent, spouse or child (either under 18, or 18 and older who is incapable of caring for him/herself because of an ADA disability). In order for FMLA to continue to adequately meet the demands of working families, it must begin to adapt to changing family dynamics.
For the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, the inclusion of siblings under FMLA’s definition of family is a focal point of its push for a bill next legislative session that would enact a statewide system of paid family leave. At the Campaign’s first press conference in September, Representative Peter Tercyak provided a moving testimony of his own experiences with FMLA and how he was the primary caregiver for his sister before she died of cancer.
“When my sister had cancer and I was helping to care for her, we took for granted our ability to take a day off from our jobs for her treatments. Only later did I find out that there is no family medical leave for siblings. My boss was that good, knew it made sense, and was good for all: me, the clinic where I worked, my sister, our family and her medical team. Everybody deserves what my boss was kind enough to give me,” Representative Tercyak stated.
By expanding the state’s FMLA to include siblings under the definition of family, Connecticut will ensure that all employees receive the same treatment as Representative Tercyak and will be able to take leave to care for a seriously ill sister or brother.
The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act recently was recently introduced in the House and Senate seeking to, among other things, expand FMLA to include coverage for siblings. Because it has become increasingly difficult to state that the caregiving relationship between siblings parallels that between a parent and child, both bills have struggled with approval.
As the federal bills continue to stall, state-by-state expansions are likely the most effective ways to increase FMLA’s coverage. The Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave continues to advocate for not only a statewide system of paid leave, but also an extended definition of family to include brothers and sisters.
In order to effect change in FMLA’s most basic coverage, we must re-rank the importance of relationships among immediate family members. If the bonds between siblings are so undeniably valuable, why don’t they receive the same degree of legal protection as that between a parent and child? As we enter the holiday season, the importance of family is never more evident. If the brothers and sisters with whom you fight over the last piece of turkey, exchange gifts, drink eggnog and celebrate the holiday season aren’t your family, who is?
Written by Maddie Granato, policy intern for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, and social work graduate student at the University of Connecticut.
[i] Johnson, C. (2014). “Am I Not My Brother’s Keeper?” Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/11/am-i-not-my-brothers-keeper/382354/?single_page=true
Photo credit: Tyrone Adams, Flickr Creative Commons