Maine Women Online

The Maine Women's Lobby is dedicated to legislative action on behalf of Maine women and girls. Since our formation in 1978, we have held true to the vision that women and girls should have economic security, access to health care, and freedom from violence and discrimination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FMLA: Hard-Won Protections Under Threat

If you're like me, you probably thought Family Medical Leave Act would be there for you if you needed it--you know, for a pregnancy or to care for an elderly family member or sick child.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for the serious illness of an employee or an immediate family member or the birth or adoption of a child.
The problem is business special interests are working to gut the law--quietly.

The U.S. Department of Labor is expected to come out shortly with proposals for revising parts of the law. The Maine Women's Lobby is watching. We're deeply concerned that these changes will cause hard-won protections to be lost.

Some national business lobbyists say the current law is too vague and vulnerable to employee abuse and that the changes they support amount to nothing more than "technical corrections."

Tell me, when you roll back a fundamental protection to care for yourself or your family, is that a technical correction?

FMLA is desperately needed, particularly for low-wage workers. According to recent Labor Department figures, in an 18-month period in 1999 and 2000, nearly 24 million Americans took leave from work for an FMLA-covered reason.

But these groups want to strip the protection that FMLA provides. Some proposals include changing the definition of "serious illness" by requiring that only illnesses requiring ten or more days off (Apparently you can't be seriously ill for fewer than ten days...) and doing away with "intermittent leave" which now allows employees with chronic conditions to take time off in small chunks of time — say, a half hour one day to undergo radiation therapy, for example, or a few hours to see a doctor during an asthma attack. (Ironically, the proposal here is to require an employee take longer leave. But why make an employee take a whole day off without pay when their health needs can be resolved with emergency medication or a 20-minute office visit?)

These changes would roll back access to FMLA, denying leave to people who need it. FMLA is working. It shouldn't be restricted. In fact, it needs to be expanded to cover the thousands of workers who need leave but can't afford to take it. The bottom line: No one should have to choose between a healthy family and a paycheck.