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1993 Family Leave and Medical Act Revised: Paid Family Leave?


Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, who wrote the 1993 Family Leave and Medical Act (as mentioned on, wants to change the FMLA guidelines. Sen. Dodd recently announced that he wants to pass a new bill to provide six weeks of paid leave for employees. Currently, FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical needs.

Since the FMLA went into effect back in 1993, an estimated 50 million people have taken time off work for the adoption or birth of a child, or to care for an ill family member or themselves, but the downside for employees is that the 12 weeks of leave do not include wages. Sen. Dodd theorizes that many people do not utilize the FMLA because of the loss of wages, but believes people would if they were paid during family leave.

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Paid Family Leave

According to Sen. Dodd, the reason for amending the 1993 Family Leave and Medical Act is that the U.S. workplace doesn’t reflect the reality of both parents working, and the difficult choices they must make at work if their child becomes ill. Under his new bill, the federal government, employees, and employers would shoulder the costs of paid leave. For those who question the cost, Sen. Dodd says, “I think a far better question is what happens if we do nothing? What happens to families?”

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FMLA Guidelines under Scrutiny

On the other side of the timecard, some businesses think that FMLA guidelines are already tilted too far in favor of employees, who take advantage of the law. One sore spot for businesses is intermittent leave, which allows employees to take off a few hours at a time, rather than just a 12-week block, thus creating extra bookkeeping work. In addition, according to, businesses claim that some employees are abusing FMLA guidelines by taking leave for the flu or headaches.

Employer and Employee FMLA Rights and Violations

Feeding the FMLA controversy is the question whether stress-related illnesses are considered a “serious health condition.” As the two sides dig in deeper, more and more workers are suing their employers, claiming that businesses are not granting unpaid leave (under FMLA). Some employees claim that employers even retaliate against those who seek family leave. Because of this controversy, the Labor Department is reviewing proposed changes and recently asked for public comment.

Comments on Current FMLA Regulations

This review of the FMLA by the Labor Department makes advocates of the FMLA more than a little nervous. Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, opposes any scaling back of the FMLA and states we need paid family leave. She cites a study called the “2007 Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the U.S. Measure Up?” to back her case. According to this study of FMLA guidelines (as reported at, 168 countries have paid maternity leave and 145 provide paid sick days, while the U.S. has neither.

FMLA Check List

According to, the proposed changes to the 1993 Family Leave and Medical Act are:

  • Widening coverage to workplaces with fewer employees. The current threshold for private business is 50 employees, although some states have lower thresholds in their own FMLA laws.
  • A more specific definition of “serious health condition.” At present, it’s an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition requiring in-patient care in a hospital or residential treatment facility, or one that keeps an employee off the job for 3 days or more, and also requires continuing treatment from a healthcare provider.
  • Limiting FMLA coverage to serious health conditions that require more than 10 days off work, in effect cutting down the number of covered conditions, and forcing those employees who do take time to use it up more quickly.
  • Allowing greater communication between employers and doctors to determine the full nature of an employee’s health condition and treatment.
  • Increasing the minimum time an employee must take for intermittent leave. Some employees now take an hour or even minutes at a time, creating ongoing disruption of workflow, say affected employers.

Clearly, these changes would affect employers and employees. With a pro-business White House on one side and a pro-labor Senator on the other, the struggle over the revisions to the FMLA could be very interesting.

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Dr. Al Lee

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