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FMLA turns 20 with room for improvement

The Family Medical Leave Act turned 20 years old this week, marking two decades of protection for employees who need to take medical leave. Before the FMLA became law it was much easier for employers to fire workers who needed time off to care for a loved one who was sick or to attend to a new baby. The law has benefited countless workers in Pennsylvania and around the country over the past two decades, but many activists agree that there is a lot of room for improving the protections that the law offers.

One thing that has changed (or at least become more clear) during the recession is that many people are working two or more part time jobs instead of a single, full time job. The FMLA only protects workers who are employed for 25 hours or more per week, which means that many people who do not have a single full time job are not protected by the law. At the time the law was enacted, fewer primary wage earners in a household were making a living in this way, but the tough economic times have resulted in a shortage of traditional, full time, salaried work, and Pennsylvania workers are resourcefully piecing together a living in other ways. These workers should be protected from retaliation or termination when they must leave work to care for themselves or a loved one who is sick.

Another problem that many people find with the law is the lack of pay availability during medical leave. Having the promise of a job when one returns to work offers some financial security, but many workers are unable to take the time that they really need to care for a new baby or an ill spouse because they cannot go without the income.

Workers at companies with less than 50 employees are also not included in the FMLA, which means that people working for small and local businesses, as well as many nonprofits are not given protection or guaranteed leave.

Source: National Public Radio, "FMLA Not Really Working For Many Employees," Jennifer Ludden, Feb. 5, 2013.

More information about the rights of workers in Pennsylvania is available on our family responsibility discrimination page.

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