edith hospitalI have had two children now, and with each one I didn’t qualify for the federal or the Connecticut Family & Medical Leave (FMLA).  The federal FMLA was signed into law 20 years ago today.  Connecticut’s passed before the federal one…we were trendsetters on family friendly policy even then and our legislation helped to get the federal one passed.

But here we are 20 years later, and somehow many of us got left out.  FMLA says that people can’t lose their job for taking leave, but the leave is unpaid and your job is only “legally” protected if you work for an employer with 50 or more employees.  I don’t work for an employer that size now, nor did I when my son was born in 2009.  In fact, most of my career thus far has been spent working in the non-profit sector, doing political advocacy and social justice work.  The organizations I’ve worked for have had between 5-15 employees…not enough to legally take leave, and yet I took leave after the births of both my children…

My employers didn’t legally have to give me my job back after the 12 week leaves I took, but on both occasions they did.  The fact that I was able to take leave, regardless of me not qualifying for FMLA, is an indication that FMLA has had an impact on how employers and employees view leave and so it should be recognized and celebrated for that.

It seems sort of silly though, that 20 years later this job protection is only available to certain employers and certain employees.  When I found out I was pregnant, I went to my employer, discussed my plans for leave, reviewed a timeline, and had an understanding that my job would be waiting for me when I returned.  With remote working these days, I didn’t really ever fully leave anyway.  I responded to important emails or forwarded on work that I knew to be a priority.

Having watched some of what my friend Shannon is going through with cancer treatments, she too worked it out with her employer and took leave.  She also worked for a small firm which didn’t qualify her for FMLA, but they too supported her and ensured a position upon her return.

What shocked me most when I became pregnant and continues to shock me today is that FMLA, with its limitations on which employers and employees get job protection, is unpaid.  That was the bigger issue for me and my husband…not if I could take the time but more importantly, could we afford it.  And sadly, as my friend spent more and more on cancer treatment, and less and less time at work, we held fundraisers to help her and her family because the bills for treatment compounded by lost wages really adds up.

It would have been nice to stay home longer with my babies or for my friend’s mother to be able to take time off of work to care for her daughter with cancer, but neither of us could afford to.  I’m hoping that in the next 20 years we see changes in FMLA to protect all of us and offer a financial protection as well.  True to form, there are a group of Connecticut advocates who have come together to see if Connecticut can create a program that gives workers partial wage replacement when they need time off–www.ctfmli.org

I’m done having kids (that’s not what my husband would tell you…a blog for another time), but as we all know, our care giving role never ends–I have parents and relatives…and then I have me.  It would be nice to know that a financial support of some kind is available during major life changes and crisis.  Here’s to the next 20 years!

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