As first-time parents, my husband and I have been trying to navigate the unfamiliar and exciting landscape that our soon-to-arrive baby boy has us pondering, including what kind of car seat to purchase, what we plan to call him, and how we will handle long-term child care needs.
Luckily, one thing that we don’t have to worry about is how quickly we’ll have to return to work or whether we’ll have a job when we return, which is something that too many parents and caregivers have to consider with the birth or adoption of a child.
Even as a small nonprofit, IMCHC will provide me with six weeks of paid maternity leave; my husband’s employer doesn’t provide paternity leave, but he plans to use his paid time off to spend time with me and the baby in the first few weeks. He also has access to the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if necessary.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of FMLA, which entitles employees working at qualified employers to take up to 12-weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to:
- Care for a newborn or newly adopted child; or
- Care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parent; or
- Recover from his/her own illness.
Employers must provide FMLA if they employ at least 50 employees and if the employee has worked at least one year for at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 month period. Public entities, including schools, local, state, and federal agencies must also offer FMLA.
FMLA provides unpaid leave, but the employer must maintain the same benefits coverage to the employee during the period he/she is on leave. Eligible workers can receive up to 26 weeks in a 12-month period to care for a related or next-of-kin wounded service member.
FMLA remains the first and only national law that provides millions of employees with the opportunity to balance their work and personal lives. Some states have adopted their own laws that offer additional protections for working families, which are outlined in a May 2012 report published by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Two states, California and New Jersey, have established employee-funded systems to allow workers to access a portion of their salary while on leave.
While the FMLA has provided millions of workers with a sense of job security, many workers can’t afford to take unpaid leave. The United States remains the only high-income nation that does not have paid parental leave. In fact, according to Working Mother magazine, most low- and middle-income countries also offer this benefit to their residents.
Studies have shown that paid leave can help workers better adjust to the new demands of parenthood, including breastfeeding and parent-child bonding. Private-sector employers have been offering various forms of paid leave to new parents, along with flexible work schedules, as they have found that these policies result in a more productive workforce.
So, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of FMLA, we should also be working towards a universal policy that puts in place paid parental leave that allows working parents to better balance the demands of employment and family life. Our partners at the National Partnership for Women and Families and MomsRising have more information about you can get involved with these issues on their websites.
Kathy Chan is IMCHC’s Associate Director and Director of Policy and Advocacy. She and her husband Eric are expecting their first child at the end of May. Contact her at email@example.com