By Sherkiya Wedgeworth

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FMLA’s 25th anniversary prompts new leave legislation

Twenty-five years ago this month, then President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill that requires certain employers to provide unpaid medical leave to employees, and on its anniversary, new legislation has been introduced that would create a program to make that leave paid.

Before the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave, women routinely lost their jobs when they took time off for childbirth and often risked their own health by returning to work too soon in order to protect their jobs. The law later expanded to cover caregivers of sick family members.

According to the Department of Labor, “FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.”

Now, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said it’s time for a paid family and medical leave program. He is co-sponsoring the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It creates a program that would provide up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious health condition, birth or adoption of a child, or family medical emergency.

The United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave program, and only 14 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer. Without a national paid family leave program, the U.S. economy loses almost $21 billion a year, women lose $324,000 and men lose $284,000 in wages and retirement benefits over a lifetime, and American businesses incur an additional 20 percent cost to recruit and retrain new workers replacing others who left because they did not have paid leave.

“New Mexicans should not face the impossible choice of caring for their health and family or keeping their job,” said Sen. Heinrich said in a statement. “Yet, the reality is that hard working people in New Mexico and across the country have to make this decision if they need medical treatment or if they have to take care of a newborn or sick parent. Meanwhile, the lack of a paid leave program strains employers and the economy. The FAMILY Act will ensure families and businesses have the stability and economic security they need to succeed.”

The program would be created through a shared fund that makes paid leave affordable for employers of all sizes, according to the statement, which also notes that the  United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave program, and only 14 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.

Posted on Feb 08, 2018 at 9:01 AM

Reader comments

Thu, Jun 6, 2019

The legislation needs to be written in a way that prevents abuse. Had an employee who went to a doc-in-a-box and got an FMLA form signed claiming her adult son (who lived in another state) needed her due to PTSD. She abused the hell out of FMLA and was taking several days per week (unpaid.) Evidently she had a home-based business so her bottom-line probably wasn't hurt; she needed time off from her Fed job to run her business. Based on social media posts, her son was holding down a job, had a girlfriend w/2 kids he was helping raise and seemed to be living his life quite fine in another state. Mom claimed he couldn't even drive to doctor's appt. without her assistance. This went on for a year and then she had it renewed. Supervisor said to leave her alone as did personnel - because FMLA was the law. The rest of us had to do her work.

Tue, Jan 8, 2019

It would be really great if an employee could convert their Use or Lose leave to sick leave at the end of each year rather than having to use it. Encourage employees to save their Annual Leave for emergencies down the road. If you are one lucky duck that does not ever have to use your sick leave, then it will be added to your time when you retire. It is a win win for everyone.

Fri, Nov 16, 2018 Jag Boston

So (blank from blank), you are saying that you used paid leave (sick/annual) during your absence but don't believe that the money magically appeared in your accounts because it wasn't labeled as "family" leave? Also, just because we might have done something one way in the past does not mean it couldn't be improved going forward. Do you still render your own fat for lanterns and cut ice from lakes in the winter to save in an ice house for refrigeration in the summer?

Fri, Nov 16, 2018 Becca Tx

This is way past due and about time! You can only request a certain amount of donated leave then you are out of lock. Cpac tells you that they don't have a leave pool account. Employers don't take into account that people can get illnesses that doesn't go away but may go into remission then reapear and supervisor who are prior military don't get it.

Mon, Jul 30, 2018

Ridiculous paying for additional leave resulting in bigger deficits and use of taxpayers money Employees are not encouraged to save their sick leave or annual/ vacation time. Employees can borrow leave and focus on repaying. As a former employee I saved and borrowed without having to ask our taxpayers to pick up the tab.

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