Should we widen the family leave law?
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (1993) was designed “to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families and to promote the stability and economic security of families” (Covey 182). Many researchers, however, state that the Act “has not proven to be quite the panacea that it was intended to be” (Hayes, 2001). For example, the FMLA appears to exclude about one-third of the US employees from the list of the subjects eligible for the Act (the figure is taken from the study of the Commission on Leave (1996); Hayes 1507).
The present essay seeks to answer the question whether the FMLA should be expanded. It is argued here that the FMLA should become more inclusive in respect to single parents, the employees of small entrepreneurships, the parents of children with special needs and children at-risk. The period of family leave should be extended. There should be special funds to provide paid family leave for the employees of low income.
To begin with, the FMLA should be extended to serve the interests of young parents with new born children. Let us imagine the situation where a young single mother took a standard family leave (12 weeks) to take care of her toddler. The infant suffered from acute neurosis and needed to stay with the mother all the time. When the leave period exceeded three months, the young mother was fired.
The situation speaks on behalf of the fact that the period of family leave should be extended. It is known that in some European countries (e.g., Sweden) employers provide up to fifteen months of regular paid leave for the parents of under-age children (Seward, Yeatts & Zottarelli 387+). Children are especially sensitive about maintaining psychological and physiological bonds with their parents. The existing FMLA affects negatively the psychological climate in the families and the health of young children being left without parental support and presence.
As Hayes stressed, “the guaranteed twelve weeks of leave is merely an empty promise” (Hayes 1507) in the cases similar to the one mentioned above. This is a burning problem in regard to the families with children who have special needs. Garwood, Fewell and Neisworth (1988) found out that approximately 425,000 infants were born each year who were disabled during the first four years of life; Bartel and Thurman (1992) stressed that 412,000 infants were born prematurely each year (in Sexton et al. 278+). The aforesaid statistics proves that the number of the families, where parents should provide greater amounts of time and effort for their children, is increasing every year.
Given the fact, the tight period of 12 weeks without payment is not enough for such families with disabled children and children at-risk. The statistics on disabled children also calls for financial amendments to be initialized. It seems that Sexton et al. were right stressing that the refinements of the FMLA should be done, “which combine[d] parental leave with disability insurance so that all families at all economic levels [could] afford to take time off to care for their children” (Sexton et al. 278+).
As Hayes summarized, refinement and legislative action were needed in three main areas: “the provision of paid leave, an increased length of leave, and expanded coverage to include more employees and employers” (Hayes 1507). Some steps have been made in regard to providing financial support for employees on family leave. In 2000, New Hampshire amended and adopted a bill to create a study committee to examine how the individuals on family and medical leave could be additionally supported by unemployment benefits (Nelson 12). In South Carolina a committee was created to investigate how employer tax credits could be used to provide paid time off for parents to participate in school events.
The unpaid nature of family leave affects the economic status of employees who belong to the lower social categories. It discriminates the employees with low salaries, single parents, etc. On the other hand, employers cannot take on their own shoulders exclusively the entire burden of providing paid extended family leaves. It is natural that employers are urged to look for extra funds to support their valuable employees on family leave, and, simultaneously, to pursue economic interests. Therefore, greater consolidated efforts should be taken in this direction on behalf of employers, state and federal governmental bodies.
To put it in a nut-shell, the FMLA needs to be expanded and refined in several major areas. First, the period of family leave should be extended. Second, the possibilities to provide financial support for individuals on family leave should be found. Financial aid during the family leave periods should cover single parents, families with disabled and “at-risk” children, and people with low incomes. Consequently, specific financial programs should be designed to raise funds via taxes or other federal and state programs to provide financial support for employees on family leave. Third, the list of employers eligible for the FMLA should be expanded to include small entrepreneurships and some other types of employers. The FMLA is a very important social provision. It should be adjusted to the quick pace of modern life to become more flexible and inclusive.
Covey, A. (2000). The Workplace Law Advisor: From Harassment and Discrimination Policies to Hiring and Firing Guidelines What Every Manager and Employee Needs to Know. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing (Current Publisher: Perseus Publishing).
Hayes, E. A. (2001). Bridging the Gap between Work and Family: Accomplishing the Goals of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. William and Mary Law Review, 42 (4), p. 1507.
Nelson, R. R. (2001). State Labor Legislation Enacted in 2000. Monthly Labor Review, 124 (1), p. 12.
Seward, R. R., Yeatts, D. E., & Zottarelli, L. K. (2002). Parental Leave and Father Involvement in Child Care: Sweden and the United States. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 33 (3), p. 387+.
Sexton, D., Sharpton, W. R., Snyder, P., & Stricklin, S. (1993). Infants and Toddlers with Special Needs and Their Families. Childhood Education, 69 (5), p. 278+.