By Dr. Yanira Cruz
Today, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 21 years old, and as a daughter, mother, caregiver, and worker I couldn’t be more thrilled. For more than two decades, the FMLA has provided workers the ability to maintain their jobs while they take care of their own health or that of a loved one, including myself. But we are the lucky ones. There are still many Americans who have to negotiate between their responsibilities as a worker and their duties within their households. Sadly, this negotiation is never a win-win situation.
Currently, 40% of workers do not have access to paid sick leave. This means that not every worker who needs time off to take care of a medical or health condition can’t afford it because they will receive partial or no pay during their leave of absence. A 2012 study from the Department of Labor showed that almost 5% of those without access to FMLA needed to take time off for medical or health reasons and couldn’t. Of those, nearly half said they couldn’t take the time off because they couldn’t afford it.
On the other hand, those who did take unpaid leave or partial paid leave were not better off. The DOL also reports that workers who took leave without FMLA had to seek alternative ways to make ends meet, such as borrowing money, using savings, putting off paying bills, limiting spending, or signing up for public assistance. And, if we look at low-income workers, the data and numbers are even more dismal.
Given that households are becoming increasingly multigenerational— particularly in the Latino community— we must continue the path our fellow advocates forged in 1993 with the passage of the FMLA. That is why as President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), I have made paid sick leave and paid family and medical insurance a key legislative issue for the organization.
When workers are healthy, businesses are healthy. And when family members are healthy, communities thrive. Over the past couple of years, we have worked with closely with advocates in California and New Jersey to inform and educate Latinos, who tend to be working family caregivers, about the FMLA and paid sick leave so that they understand their rights as workers.
Today, on behalf of NHCOA, I renew our support for the FMLA and urge Congressional action on two pieces of legislation Congress is currently considering related to paid sick leave and family and medical insurance, the Healthy Families Act (paid sick days) and the FAMILY Act (paid family and medical leave insurance). Both pieces of legislation would help eliminate the choice people face between their health and family and their economic security.
I am also making a wish in honor of the FMLA’s 21st birthday. I wish for swift, bipartisan action on the Healthy Families Act and the FAMILY Act this year because being a good worker should not come at the expense of caring for one’s family and health.
Wish the FMLA a happy 21st birthday by tweeting this wish:
Let’s build on the success of the #FMLA and support workers by passing the #FAMILYAct and #HealthyFamilyAct this year. #FMLA21
This is part of the Family Values at Work blog carnival on the FMLA anniversary—read all the posts there.