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Summary Article: Family Medical Leave Act from Encyclopedia of Gender and Society

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted by the U.S. government in 1993. The FMLA guarantees eligible employees who work for covered employers 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. This leave can be taken for the following reasons: (a) to care for a newborn, newly adopted, or foster child; (b) if the employee is needed to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition; (c) if the employee’s own serious health condition renders the employee unable to do her or his job. The FMLA is important because it recognizes the reality that employees carry family responsibilities and ties into the workplace. The FMLA is important for gender scholars because patterns of family caregiving are influenced by gender.

One criticism of the FMLA is that not all U.S. employers and workers are covered. Employers covered by the FMLA include all local, state, and federal agencies, and private employers who employ more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Some employers who are not required to by the FMLA have also begun to offer family leave. Covered employers who interfere with an eligible employee’s rights under the FMLA are liable for monetary damages and equitable remedies such as employment, promotion, and reinstatement. Workers are eligible for FMLA rights if they have worked for a covered employer for a minimum of 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months. It has been estimated that half of American workers are not covered because they work for small employers, have recently changed jobs, or are part-time workers.

Unlike in many other countries that provide paid parental leave, leave under the FMLA is unpaid. Some people who would like to take or extend their parental leave find themselves unable to because of economic reasons. This socioeconomic class bias worries some scholars. Additionally, scholars concerned with the unequal amounts of family caregiving between men and women (with women doing the vast majority) point out that men are generally more likely to take family leave when paid. Recently some states have attempted to finance the FMLA leave.

Some ongoing discussions surrounding the FMLA are about the need to expand the coverage and how it is administered. Differing interpretations of the somewhat ambiguous language have led to litigation and the continual redefinition of the FMLA by the courts. Considerable research continues to evaluate the rates of usage by both men and women and their demographic characteristics. Overwhelmingly, research has found that both men and women are more likely to take family leave since the enactment of the FMLA.

    See also
  • Maternity Leave; Parental Leave

Further Readings
  • Gerstel, N.; McGonagle, K. Job leaves and the limits of the family and medical leave act. Work and Occupations, 26(A), (1999). 510-534.
  • Waldfogel, J. Family and medical leave: Evidence from the 2000 surveys. Monthly Labor Review, 124(9), (2001). 17-23.
  • Medora W. Barnes
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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