By C. Nicole Mason and Jeffrey Hayes

Twenty-seven years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) became law, providing crucial job protection to workers when they welcome a new child or take necessary time off to care for a family member. The landmark legislation ensures that workers do not have to choose between their jobs and families when faced with life changes or serious health challenges.

What we know is that companies thrive, families benefit, and employees feel secure knowing they can rely on FMLA. For more than two decades, FMLA has helped millions of workers to balance work and family needs.

Unfortunately, FMLA only covers only about 60 percent of the workforce, leaving many of the most vulnerable workers without coverage or support to take time off to care for their families or meet unforeseen serious health needs.

Although a critical building block for family economic security, leave provided under the FMLA is unpaid. For low-wage workers, and others who live paycheck to paycheck taking unpaid leave can have a devastating impact on their overall economic well-being.

As we reflect on how FMLA might be strengthened and what kinds of public policies at the local, state and federal levels will be necessary to win economic equity for families in the coming years, several states are leading the way on paid family and medical leave. They include: California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington. These programs provide partial wage replacement to covered workers for all the FMLA reasons.

In Washington, DC the Paid Family Leave Act will be fully operational on July 1, 2020, and three more states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Oregon–are currently implementing laws.

In the states where there is paid family medical leave is the law—families are healthier, and workers are able to take care of their loved ones with less fear of losing their job or retaliation.

There’s no doubt–the time is now for a national, comprehensive paid leave policy that covers family and medical events for all workers, in all sectors.

A worker starting their career in 1993 when FMLA became law is now approaching retirement. We cannot let another generation of workers balance work and caring for loved ones without updating our policies for the 21st century.

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