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Family and medical leave: evidence from the 2000 surveys
September, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 9
This article highlights the key findings on family and medical leave policies and practices from two new surveys of employees and establishments conducted by Westat for the Department of Labor in the summer and fall of 2000. The new surveys provide a window on the family and medical leave experiences of employees and employers 7 years after the enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and 5 years after the last surveys on family and medical leave were conducted.1
Prior to the enactment of the FMLA in 1993, the United States had no national family and medical leave legislation, making the Nation an outlier among other industrialized countries.2 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979 required establishments that already offered temporary-disability programs to cover pregnancy as they did any other disability, but the Act did not mandate that establishments actually offer such programs. Some employees had access to family or medical leave through union contracts, employer policies, or State statutes, but coverage under these provisions was rarely as comprehensive as coverage under the FMLA. Indeed, many employees had no family or medical leave coverage prior to the passage of that legislation.
The FMLA, which was enacted by Congress and signed by the President in February 1993, went into effect in August of that year. The Act requires establishments with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year to eligible employees who need leave for a reason specified under the law (that is, to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or a newly placed foster child, to care for a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition, or to treat one’s own serious health condition). In order to be eligible, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours that year.
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1 Further details on the 1995 surveys and their findings can be found in Commission on Family and Medical Leave, A Workable Balance: Report to Congress on Family Medical Leave Policies (U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, 1996); executive summary available on the Internet at www.dol.gov/dol/esa/public/regs/compliance/whd/fmla/summary.htm. Further details on the 2000 surveys and their findings can be found in David Cantor, Jane Waldfogel, Jeff Kerwin, Mareena McKinley Wright, Kerry Levin, John Rauch, Tracey Hagerty, and Martha Stapleton Kudela, Balancing the Needs of Families and Employers: Family and Medical Leave Surveys, 2000 Update (Rockville, MD, Westat, 2001); on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/asp/fmla/main.htm. The 2000 surveys are also on the Internet at www.dol.gov/asp/fmla/database.htm.
2 See Sheila Kamerman, "Parental Leave Policies: An Essential Ingredient in Early Childhood Education and Care Policies," Social Policy Report, vol. 14, no. 2, 2000, pp. 3–15; and "From Maternity to Parenting Policies: Women’s Health, Employment, and Child and Family Well-Being," Journal of the American Women’s Medical Association, in press; see also Peter Moss and Fred Deven (eds.), Parental Leave: Progress or Pitfall? Research and Policy Issues in Europe (Brussels, CBGS Publications, 1999); and Elizabeth Olson, "U.N. Surveys Paid Leave for Mothers: U.S. among Nations without a Policy," The New York Times, Feb. 16, 1998, p. A.5.
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