It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act (usually referred to as the Family Leave Act) was born. And what’s almost as hard to believe is that it’s incredibly underused. According to a new report, only 16% of eligible workers actually took leave to care for a sick relative or to care for a new child.
When the Act first became law, many companies were worried that it would kill profits and drive them out of business. But that never happened. In fact, most employers today say that absences had little or no impact on productivity or profits.
Under the Act, eligible workers (meaning that you work at least 24 hours per week for a company that employs 50 or more) can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and their job is protected while they’re gone. However, according to the report, 40% of people who’ve taken the leave were out 10 days or less. The biggest reason there aren’t as many leave takers as there could be is the finances. A full 50% of workers who were eligible but didn’t take leave said they just couldn’t afford to salary hit. Unfortunately, only about half the workforce is eligible.
Families have been fighting from the beginning to get Congress to require that family leave be paid. So far, nothing’s happening on that front. But the Department of Labor did make some progress by expanding the Act to cover military families that have to care for service members who are injured or called to active duty on short notice.