Saturday, February 10, 2007

Family Medical Leave Act Under Attack

For those of you who work for large employers, don't bet on the fact that if you have a baby or if you or someone in your family gets sick you'll be able to take 12 weeks unpaid from work and get your job back.

The Department of Labor has published a request for information on the Family Medical Leave Act, which according to a Judith Warner's NYTimes column (requires registration) means that the Department has caved to business groups who have been pressuring the Department to greatly curtail or eliminate that 12 week unpaid leave workers can now take for family or medical issues.

The law as it now stands is unscrupulously chintzy, forcing workers to choose between their family or health and their paycheck. But, at least it's something, and guarantees that if workers need to take time for themselves or their family, they can do so without jeopardizing their jobs (up to 12 weeks, of course).

According to Warner's column:
When it was first proposed in Congress, in 1985, it was meant to provide 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for workers in companies with one employee or more. By the early 1990s, when President George H.W. Bush vetoed it twice, the act had been scaled down to its current paltry offerings, but it nonetheless sparked the particular ire of social conservatives, who viewed it as an implicit endorsement of working motherhood. (In 1991, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, now House Minority Leader, called it “another example of yuppie entitlement.”)

The business groups that sought to defeat the family leave act way back when (including the Coalition to Protect Family Leave’s twice-removed parent, The Society for Human Resource Management) have been agitating since the mid-1990s to scale it back into virtual nonexistence. What they want now is to tinker with the bill so that only workers with the most “serious” medical conditions requiring extended leave will be covered. They want to make sure workers don’t take “intermittent” leave – i.e. a couple of hours off here and there to go to the doctor – but instead only avail themselves of the substantial chunks of time off that will put a serious dent in their income.

The idea, it seems, is to make taking sick leave so financially painful that only those without the slightest chance of dragging themselves to the office will do it.
You can do something to counter those who want to limit this basic protection. Visit the Department of Labor's website and send them your comments on FMLA. Tell them why it's so important, and why it should be expanded not contracted.

As you know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You need to be very squeaky.

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