Paternity Leave: Is Your Husband Eligible?
State Labor Laws
One strength of FMLA is that it disallows companies from freezing benefits during qualified leave (the couple mentioned above didn’t sign those papers). Another is that the policy’s inclusion of paternity leave signifies progress in recognizing the importance of men as active fathers. However, since the FMLA’s enactment in 1993, two major criticisms of its availability and impact have been made.
First, many private-sector employees don’t work for companies that are required to offer FMLA leave. The US Department of Labor’s 2000 report Balancing the Needs of Families and Employers: Family and Medical Leave Surveys found that while 77 percent of all US employees were covered by FMLA, only 11 percent of private-sector establishments were required to conform to it. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2001 bargaining fact sheet “Expanding the Family Leave and Medical Act,” this translates into 41 million American workers who don’t qualify for FMLA.
The second issue with FMLA is that many families simply can’t afford to take unpaid leave. The Department of Labor’s survey for its 2000 FMLA report found that of the 3.5 million American workers who had needed but were unable to take FMLA leave, 78 percent of them cited the loss of pay as their primary reason for not doing so.
To improve the feasibility of family/medical leave, individual states have begun enacting their own legislation. In 2004, California became the first US state to offer paid family leave: up to six weeks at 55 percent pay, not to exceed $728 per week. Unlike the FMLA, the California law covers all workers, not just those in companies of 50 or more employees. Companies are required to abide by either the federal FMLA or the state’s policies, whichever is more generous to employees. The US Department of Labor website contains information on how the family and medical leave laws of the 11 states that currently have enacted their own legislation differ from the FMLA. Besides California, these states include Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia as well.
Of course, there are also some employers who offer paid family leave regardless of either federal or state requirements. One man who responded to Dave’s paternity-leave post works in a state governor’s office and said that he received two weeks of paid family leave, followed by the option to work for 12 hours per week on full-time pay for another four weeks.
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