Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if needed to prepare for the birth of a child, or if needed for the serious health condition of themselves or a close family member, so long as their employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the employee’s workplace, and so long as the employee worked at least 1,250 hours in the year prior to needing leave. Every other industrialized country, and just about all of the non-industrialized ones, has a more generous family leave benefit. A law introduced this week in Congress would help a little bit. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY) would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave, for the same kinds of leave provided by the FMLA. It would apply to all workers, not just those eligible for FMLA benefits. The benefits would depend on the worker’s salary and would range from $580 to $4,000 per month. The benefits would be supported by a payroll tax and would be administered by the Social Security Administration.
The law would finally bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world in providing paid family and medical leave, but the proposed law has substantial limitations. Employers would not be required to allow employees taking leave to come back to work, so anyone not eligible for FMLA leave - for example, someone who worked for an employer with less than 50 employees - would be still risking their job in order to take the leave. In addition, anyone whose employer does provide paid family leave - they do exist - would have their leave benefit reduced by the amount of the employer-provided benefits. Finally, funding the benefit from another payroll tax, rather then from general revenues, places an all of the tax burden on workers, who every year get less and less of the national income anyway.
Still, the FAMILY act would be an improvement on the current state of affairs, which means it has no announced Republican support. Getting the FMLA passed took ten years, and was vetoed twice by President George Bush I before beign enacted. The same effort will be required to pass this law.