We’ve been together for 22 years. I know this timing is a little awkward with our Anniversary, but the conversation is much overdue. At the time (1993), you were one of a kind – an absolute milestone for the entire nation. You’re the only federal program that provides job protection for employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their place of work in a 12-month period.  You’ve been used more than 200 million times!

Across the country, women use FMLA-provided maternity leave and return after having 12 weeks of time with their newborns. Working caregivers utilize FMLA to care for an elderly relative’s serious illness, and I know you’ll be there for me if I ever need time off to recover from my own health condition. You’ve even tried to change and evolve, which I have noticed; you allowed workers to use FMLA to care for members of the armed forces undergoing treatment or recover from an injury[1]. But that’s not enough in this workforce.

I’ve played the field and researched my options, namely the possibility of a new and improved system that will undoubtedly treat me better. I need a policy that actually recognizes the unpredictability of getting sick, understands the importance of bonding with a newborn baby after birth or adoption, and will relieve the financial hardship accompanying the absence of a paycheck during times of emotional joy or hardship.

FMLA, it’s been 22 years and I think I need our relationship could use a little work.  In recognition of our anniversary, here are 22 reasons why I’m sure it’s time to change:

  1. It’s noticeably embarrassing that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have a federal paid family leave policy.
  2. The shortcomings of FMLA are numerous. Besides not covering businesses with over 50 employees, FMLA doesn’t even cover part-time employees who work under 25 hours. Many workers must work part-time to balance family responsibilities, by the way.[2]
  3. Due to the limitations of which workers are considered “FMLA-eligible,” 40% of employees don’t qualify for its benefits.
  4. Must I go on? Almost half of all FMLA-eligible workers did not utilize FMLA because they could not afford to be without pay[3].
  5. Not to mention, employees who do take FMLA often end up shortening the length due to financial constraints[4].
  6. While FMLA does include job-protection and anti-retaliation measures, there is still subtle discrimination against women AND men who take leave.
  7. Paid leave is a hot commodity. Research shows that seventy-six percent of registered voters support laws to provide paid leave for family care and childbirth, sixty-nine percent endorsed paid sick day laws, and eighty-two percent said they would support legislators who worked for stronger laws against discrimination and unfair treatment at work[5].
  8. Good for women and good for business? Yes! Lengthier childbearing leave (combined paid and unpaid leave) is a strong deterrent effect against women dropping out of the labor force or changing jobs postpartum.
  9. Paid parental leave also results in better pre- and postnatal care, which leads to long- term benefits that will improve a child’s brain and social development.[6]
  10. I’m not the only one falling for paid family leave; it’s becoming more attractive to an increasing amount of well-known businesses, large and small, across the country.
  11. Facebook, Microsoft, and Johnson & Johnson (to name a few), have already implemented progressive paid leave policies. At least they have a little initiative.
  12. By adopting a paid leave policy, companies retain their employees and attract top-notch workers who may be more apt to take their talents elsewhere based on better benefits.
  13. In addition to a number of major companies, three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – have picked up the federal slack by adopting their own paid leave policies.
  14. Bad for business? Not so fast. Paid leave, when executed correctly, has been shown to actually boost a state’s economy.[7]
  15. Research in California, for example, found that their state’s paid family leave insurance has had either a positive or no effect on the majority of businesses’ profits.[8]
  16. Let’s talk about caregiving. Nationally, 40 million caregivers spent over 37 billion hours on caregiving tasks in 2013, amounting to a total economic value of $470 billion. Whoa.
  17. In Connecticut alone, 459,000 family caregivers spent 427 million hours on caregiving responsibilities in 2013, including helping with a loved one with basic daily activities and accompanying him or her to appointments. This cost $5.93 billion in unpaid care services.[9]
  18. During the 2015 legislative session, CT became one of just 13 states to pass the CARE Act, which gives patients the option to designate a caregiver on an admissions form; however, the comfort of paid family leave is often the most effective support for a family member and his or her caregiver.
  19. The tide is changing. Paid leave gained a lot of attention this session, from the buzz surrounding our state’s first-ever paid leave proposal, to Secretary Perez stopping by CT on his Lead on Leave
  20. Let’s get down to it. It was great while it lasted, but in today’s workforce, FMLA falls well short of promoting gender equality and is just one of many policies that still push women to stay at home and men to stay at work.
  21. The relationship between gender equality, a strong economy and paid leave is clear: companies (and countries, as a whole) are competitive when they embrace supportive workplace policies that help attract, develop and retain the best talent, regardless of gender.[10]
  22. It’s 2015, people! Workforce and family dynamics are constantly changing and it’s time our policies change with them.

Here in Connecticut, we’re so close to paid family and medical leave.  During the 2015 legislative session, HB 6932: An Act Concerning Paid Family and Medical Leave, gained notable momentum with bipartisan approval in both the Labor and Appropriations committees. While we may have to wait until next session for passage, Connecticut made serious strides. A budget implementer was passed which dedicated funds to studying what a new relationship with a system of paid leave might look like.

FMLA, thanks for everything. You’ve provided job protection for countless workers needing to take time off to recover from an illness, take care of an aging relative or welcome a new baby for the past 22 years. It’s time to recognize the changing demographics of the labor market and help working families balance work-life responsibilities in Connecticut. #PaidLeave4CT.

Written by Nicole Seymour, Research, Policy, and Program Assistant at CWEALF and Maddie Granato, Policy Intern at CWEALF

[1] http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.pdf

[2] http://www.npr.org/2013/02/05/171078451/fmla-not-really-working-for-many-employees

[3] http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/fmla/dol-fmla-survey-key-findings-2012.pdf

[4] http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/fmla/dol-fmla-survey-key-findings-2012.pdf

[5] National Partnership for Women and Families, “Key Findings from Nationwide Polling on Paid Family and Medical Leave,” September 25, 2007. http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/Paid_Family_Leave_Poll_Results_ 2007.pdf?docID=2521

[6] The Third Metric, “Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World”, 2013.

[7]  Josh Levs, “Does Your Company Have a Paid Family Leave Program Yet?” July 15, 2015. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247389.

8 Josh Levs, “Does Your Company Have a Paid Family Leave Program Yet?” July 15, 2015. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247389.

9 Madeline Stocker, “Connecticut Caregivers Provide Billions in Unpaid Care” July 21, 2015. http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/connecticut_caregivers_provide_billions_in_unpaid_care/?utm_source=CTNewsJunkie.com&utm_campaign=2c626a8dab-MCP_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a493d2308d-2c626a8dab-92871713.

[10] Josh Levs, “Does Your Company Have a Paid Family Leave Program Yet?” July 15, 2015. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247389.