The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is an act of legislation in the United States which provides specific provisions for people who need to take leave from work to deal with serious medical conditions, new children, or ailing family members. The FMLA was passed in 1993, early in the term of President Bill Clinton, who had made the creation of such a law a campaign promise and priority. Since that time, the Act has been slightly revised and refined to cope with specific issues.
Under the terms of the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees have the right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month period, with full reinstatement of their positions at the end of the period of leave. If their positions are no longer available, comparable employment must be provided. The Act also mandates that benefits continue during the period of leave, as long as the employee pays his or her share, and that full benefits are reinstated when the employee returns to work.
The terms of the FMLA only apply to employers who hire more than 50 people with a 75 mile (121 kilometer) radius. The employee must have worked at least 12 months for the company, and he or she is obliged to provide advance notice before making a request. An employer can also request certification from a medical provider to confirm that the leave is truly covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Employees can ask for leave to care for a newborn baby or newly adopted child, and they can also request leave to cope with serious medical conditions, or to care for family members who have been diagnosed with serious medical conditions. If two employees work for the same company, they can only take a combined 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA, rather than getting 12 weeks each. Employees are also protected from discrimination or retribution when they exercise their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Proponents of the Act argue that it provides equal protection to men and women who might need to take leave to deal with important life events, ensuring that those people will have jobs upon their return. Critics have pointed out that the Family and Medical Leave Act can cause employers to subtly discriminate against women, as employers may choose not to hire women of childbearing age out of concern that those women may take leave at some point. Furthermore, opponents have suggested that when compared to the paid leave guaranteed to new parents and people with serious illnesses in other industrialized countries, the Family and Medical Leave Act is somewhat financially restrictive, as many people cannot afford to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, even if they really need or want time off.