August 5, 2023, marked 30 years from the date the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) of 1993 went fully into effect. Signed into law on February 5, 1993, by newly-inaugurated President Clinton, the FMLA gave American workers the right to take time off work to care for themselves and their family members without giving up their livelihood in the process. The tremendous success of the FMLA deserves celebrating, but the fight to improve family and medical leave rights in this country is not over.
Prior to the FMLA’s enactment, employees suffering from serious health conditions (and employees with family members suffering from serious health conditions) regularly had to choose between taking the time off work they needed to seek treatment, recover, or attend to the needs of a family member, and keeping their jobs. For those whose employers provided the health insurance they needed to get medical care, this was no choice at all.
The FMLA, for the first time, gave covered employees a federally-protected right to take unpaid leave—for up to 12 weeks—to care for a family member, bond with a new child, or recover from their own serious health condition, and still have their job waiting for them when they returned. In the words of the former President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, Debra L. Ness, the impact of the FMLA has been “enormous,” letting “tens of millions of workers take leave when they needed it the most, and changing the culture in this country. Those are women who needed medical care during difficult pregnancies, fathers who took time to care for children fighting cancer, adult sons and daughters caring for frail parents, and workers taking time to recover from their own serious illnesses. Because of the FMLA, their health insurance continued, and their jobs were waiting when they returned to work.”