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The history of the Family and Medical Leave Act


The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects certain workers who are facing medical challenges, pregnancy, bringing a new baby into their homes or helping family members with their own health challenges. For workers who qualify, the FMLA allows them to take unpaid time off from work without risking the loss of their jobs and status at work.

The Women's Legal Defense Fund is now known as the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF), This is the non-profit group that drafted the first version of the law in 1984. It later became known as the FMLA, although it was not until 1993 that the bill became law.

A bill that was nine years in the making

From 1984 to 1993, the FMLA was introduced to Congress each year, and each of those years the new legislation failed to become law. Congress actually passed the law in 1991 and 1992, but both times, the presiding president vetoed the measure.

In time, however, the bill began to receive bipartisan support from both sides of Congress. According to the NPWF, the passage of the FMLA represents the coming together of advocacy groups who represented a diverse array of interests.

It's now approximately 25 years since the enactment of the FMLA. According to the NPWF, Americans have used the law over 200 million times to assist husbands, wives, children, mothers and fathers during times of health crises, pregnancy and bringing new children into their families.

The fight for worker rights is not over

That said, the fight is not over. The FMLA offers vital employment benefits to many Americans while leaving many more -- particularly those in part-time positions and those working at small companies -- in the dark. In fact, the FMLA only covers:

  • Federal and government workers; and
  • Workers who have been employed on a full-time basis for 12 or more months at a company with 50-plus employees working inside a 75-mile radius.

Currently, the NPWF leadership is working hard to increase the scope of the FMLA to cover more American workers. In the meantime, if you're interested in whether you and your family can benefit from the FMLA, learn more about the rules and national employment law regulations that apply to this vital piece of federal legislation.

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