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When Family Comes First: Stories of FMLA’s Impact

August 5th, 2013 marks the 20-year anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act – the nation’s first law guaranteeing most workers job-protected unpaid leave for certain medical or family emergencies. This week our blog will focus on the importance of family and medical leave programs and the need to pass the next generation of family and medical leave protections.

Since it was enacted in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act has been used over 100 million timesMomsRising, a member of EOI’s Washington Work and Family Coalition, recently gathered stories from members about how FMLA has impacted their lives.

Gwenne was 23 when her father was diagnosed as terminal. After her employer denied her request to go home and care for him in his last few weeks, Gwenne used a local version of FMLA that had been passed in Washington, D.C.

“I’m really grateful for the time I had…giving back to my parents in terms of caring for them and time together was huge. It influenced how I parent. And it has helped me move on with my life. I don’t have the guilt that others I know who have lost parents have. And it granted me a certain amount of serenity knowing that I spent that time with them in my father’s final days. In the scheme of things, 5 weeks was not a lot of time, but it meant everything. So, I credit FMLA with that and also for not derailing a rewarding career.”

For Marya, FMLA allowed her to be with her son during grueling bouts of chemotherapy:

“I can’t imagine how much the stress would have been compounded if I had also had to face losing my job. So, I was able to take 12 weeks to care for my son and not worry that I wouldn’t have a job…Our son was born with Down Syndrome, so we knew he was likely to have some intense health issues, we just never imagined leukemia would be one of them. We were close to 50 percent of the time in-patient for 6 or 7 months. The chemo was so intense that they didn’t want him to be out of the hospital because his blood count was so low…He’s 15 now and he did really well with the treatment. And I think some of what helped him to get through so well was that we were able to hold it together as a family because of FMLA.”

But for many families, FMLA doesn’t go far enough, as Danielle points out.

“FMLA is a great thing, but it’s only great if you have the means to support yourself. If you don’t, it’s tough to make ends meet. FMLA protects your job and gives you the time, but it assumes you have a pot of money there to help meet needs. I think legislation to have paid sick leave and paid leave would be something for which to strive. In an ideal world, there would be paid leave available to families.”

Twenty years after enacting FMLA, it’s time for lawmakers to step up and pass the next generation of family leave protections. In Washington, we’re working to pass Family and Medical Leave Insurance and Paid Sick Days standards. Paid leave is good for workers and business and it protects our most vulnerable – young children and ailing seniors. Demand action from Olympia today.

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