“It’s embarrassing given where we are compared to our partners in the industrial world. There are very few countries that still don’t provide paid leave,“ Lichtman says.
Across the country, cities and states have been trying to fill this gap.
A handful have supplemented the FMLA by adopting earned sick days laws. Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, coordinates campaigns around the country to advance family leave insurance and paid sick days. Beyond a patchwork of state and local laws, Bravo wants to see federal approval for expansion of FMLA to make it more affordable to people of all income levels to use. “The bottom line is having a family shouldn’t cost you your job,” Bravo says.
Those efforts aren’t popular with big employers. Bravo says business interests, which fought FMLA for nine years before its passage, predicted doom for employers. That never came to fruition, she says: “It’s been positive in the sense that it has kept workers attached to the workforce.” New research released this week by the U.S. Department of Labor reveals women who take paid leave after a child’s birth are more likely to be working the following year.
Still, there are some unforeseen consequences with FMLA. Employers say it can be difficult to track time off for workers who take their 12 weeks of leave a few hours at a time. And, even with the law on the books, some employers just don’t comply, leading to lawsuits in federal courts around the country. “In some scenarios, employers don’t familiarize themselves to the extent they need to with the FMLA requirements under the law,” says Angeli Murthy, attorney with Morgan & Morgan in Plantation.
In Miami, Pat Hurley, a former president at Kent Security, asked for medical leave to recover from depression. His company’s CEO fired him the next day. “My story reads like a case study in how not to treat employees,” Hurley says.
Hurley sued Kent in federal court in Florida in 2008 for a violation of the FMLA and won more than $1 million in pay, penalties and attorneys fees. “The court found it significant that the CEO of 1,000 employees had never reviewed the employee handbook to familiarize himself with his obligations under FMLA,” says Murthy, who along with Richard Celler represented Hurley. (Kent has appealed the verdict.)
One of the biggest frustrations for FMLA advocates is that as much as 40 percent of the workforce isn’t even eligible for FMLA. The law is confined to workplaces with 50 or more employees and excludes part-time workers.
On this anniversary, advocates say they will work toward getting FMLA updated and expanded. New legislation drafted in Washington this month would expand eligibility to more of the workforce and introduce a nationwide paid family leave.
National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra Ness she and others are pushing hard for FMLA expansion: “The law has been a huge success, but it’s time — past time — to take the next step.”
Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Connect with her at email@example.com or worklifebalancingact.com.