Celebrating The Family and Medical Leave Act: 20 Years of Strengthening Families
9to5 is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act on February 5, one of the most significant advances for working families in our nation’s history. The FMLA transformed the workplace and strengthened the American family by providing job-protected leave for millions of workers who were caring for ill family members or bringing a new child into the family. Prior to FMLA, many people lost their jobs when they needed time off for a new baby, got cancer or had to take care of a seriously ill family member.
Below is a sampling of stories from hardworking Americans who have benefited from FMLA, as well as from those unable to do so because of a lack of accessibility or affordability. Their voices make the case for strengthening and expanding FMLA so that more of us are able to balance responsibilities at home and at work.
Workers have used FMLA more than 100 million times since its enactment in 1993.
“When I had my second child, I took six weeks off full-time and then used the rest of my leave intermittently to work part-time. Thanks to Wisconsin’s FMLA, our family was able to decide for ourselves when it made sense for us to use our leave. That ability allowed us to adjust our lives gradually into me returning full-time back to work and eased the transition from a one-child household to a two-child one for my older daughter. I was able to keep my health in check, both recovering from delivery and mental health. I didn’t have to stress about losing my job and was able to focus on breastfeeding my newborn, something that was a struggle for me with my first child.
Wisconsin’s higher standards for FMLA allowed our family, and not my employer, to decide how it was best for us to transition back to working full-time after having a baby. Allowing my family this flexibility was truly amazing and life-changing. Without it, my mental health would’ve suffered greatly and my husband and I would not have been able to both bond with our children. It made me a more loyal employee and made me want to be more productive when I returned to work. I’ve worked for companies in other states without that support, and it left me burnt out and unproductive.”
“I was diagnosed with Lupus several years ago, and I at first I was in and out of the hospital a lot. I was getting written up at work, and at risk of losing my job at the post office, when one of my managers suggested FMLA. It was difficult to take unpaid time off, but at least I knew that I had a job to come back to.”
“I am an early childhood special education teacher who loves her job very much. I was recently diagnosed with a chronic nerve condition with no cure. My treatment consists of trying to manage my symptoms. Under doctor’s orders, I am currently taking a few days of FMLA per month to undergo further tests and learn to manage my disease.
As a single woman and a homeowner, if I lost my job because of my condition, I would lose everything. I don’t have another income so I choose to use my accrued sick hours under WFMLA. Wisconsin’s higher standards allow me, not my employer, to decide to use my accrued leave or not. I don’t know if my employer would’ve denied me that access, but I’m thankful that Wisconsin recognizes that I’ve earned those hours and should be able to decide for myself if I use them.
If I didn’t have the option to use my paid time off, I would’ve had no choice but to go into work while in chronic pain. I work hard to provide the quality education that my students deserve, but going to work sick would mean that I wouldn’t be able to do my job to the best of my ability.”
“When my son was born premature, I was able to take leave in order to care for him, and my job was secure for the first 12 weeks under FMLA. Unfortunately, 12 weeks was not long enough in our case. When those 12 weeks were up, he was still on a heart monitor and breathing equipment, and needed my care. I lost my job because I couldn’t go back to work yet.”
Mt Horeb, Wisconsin
“My husband and I were due to have our first child on June 26, 2004. Upon her arrival we were confronted with the fact that Evie had a rare genetic disorder with less than 350 documented cases worldwide. I used the next 12 weeks, thanks to my FMLA, to learn how to be a mom while also learning how to cope with having a child born with a disability and many complicated health issues.
In September 2005, we received the devastating news that Evie had cancer. She needed part of her kidney removed, followed by 18 weeks of chemo and surgery. At the time we received the diagnosis, I no longer had any vacation time left. But the flexibility allowed by Wisconsin’s FMLA enabled our family to develop a plan, even though we didn’t know what the future held in store. Without it, I don’t know where our family would be right now. I had the opportunity to take care of my child when she needed it most while also knowing that my job was secure.
Evie is a beautiful, healthy 8-year-old today. Me being able to focus my attention on caring for her helped her not only to survive, but to thrive. I may not have been able to do that if it weren’t for the higher standards Wisconsin’s FMLA provides working families.”
“In 2001 I was diagnosed with cancer. I had been a teacher for the public school district for ten years and had a young son. I was able to take time off because I qualified for FMLA, and because I had access to paid sick days, and a paid sick leave bank I was able to get some wage replacement while I was out for three months. Some teachers I knew who were retired actually substituted for me for free, which would have otherwise come out of my own pocket. When my FMLA ran out, and I was still in no condition to teach, I was able to work out of the school library doing paper work, while someone else continued to teach my classes.”
Click here for more stories about FMLA.