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Time to reflect on the Family Medical Leave Act

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. This federal employment law allows employees to take leaves from their jobs in the event of childbirth, the adoption of a child, a serious illness, or a serious illness of a family member. While these leaves do not have to be paid, they are job-protected meaning an employer cannot fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee who takes an FMLA leave.

It is strange to think that such a law has only been in existence for 20 years. However, in the eyes of many people, the U.S.'s employment rights regarding family leaves are still lagging.

FMLA leaves do not have to be paid; all employers are not covered by the FMLA; and workers must have been with their current employer for at least one year in order to qualify for a leave. These are some of the issues that cause people to criticize the FMLA and ask for reforms.

New Jersey is one of two states that actually has a family leave insurance program that does allow workers who are on leave to continue earning a paycheck. The family leave pay is financed by small payroll deductions and it allows for six weeks of partially paid leave. Here in New Jersey, workers can receive up to $584 for each week of a family or medical leave. Depending on one's wages, that might be a demotion in pay, however it certainly is better than nothing. In many other states, those who need leaves cannot always take them because they cannot afford to go without pay.

Although we have additional family leave rights here in New Jersey, the system still does not operate perfectly. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of an employer intimidating workers who need leaves or denying requests. When employers break state or federal family and medical leave laws, however, they can be held accountable and workers can obtain compensation.

Source: CNN, "Extend family leave to all workers," Janet Walsh, Feb. 6, 2013

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