Today is the 26th anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the landmark federal law that provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to eligible workers.
Now, 26 years later, there’s something to celebrate: paid family and medical leave is on its way to Connecticut.
Since its enactment, FMLA has been used more than 200 million times by workers who need to take time off to care for an ill relative, welcome a new baby, or recover from a serious health condition.
But for workers like Danielle, the shortcomings of FMLA are very real. After just starting at a new job, Danielle had not worked enough hours to be eligible for FMLA’s job protected leave when her father entered hospice care. Faced with limited choices, Danielle spent the last few hours of her father’s life working remotely from his bedside.
Danielle isn’t alone: just 17 percent of workers and 6 percent of low-wage workers – who are disproportionately women and people of color – have access to paid family leave through their employer.
Here’s the good news. This legislative session, Connecticut became the seventh state (including Washington D.C.) to pass paid family and medical leave, legislation now celebrated as one of the most comprehensive paid leave programs in the country.
Signed by Gov. Ned Lamont on June 25, P.A. 19-25 creates a paid family and medical leave insurance program that is accessible and affordable for businesses, workers and their families. The system is funded solely by small employee contributions, and will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave when workers need to take time away to care for themselves or a seriously ill family member, or to welcome a new child.
Since the Campaign for Paid Family Leave began in 2013, we’ve heard from hundreds of workers just like Danielle who fear losing their job when they need to take leave – either because they haven’t banked enough hours to be covered by FMLA, or because they work at a small business with less than 50 employees.
With Connecticut’s new program, workers at employers of all sizes will have the comfort of knowing their job will be waiting at the end of their leave. People who work for three months with an employer will have job protection, no matter how big the company is.
Even among workers who are eligible for FMLA, many do not utilize the law simply because they cannot afford to miss even one week’s worth of pay. According to United Way’s 2018 ALICE Report, 40 percent of Connecticut families cannot afford basic household necessities like healthcare, groceries or transportation.
These families are already a missed paycheck away from financial strife, without the burden of a sudden health scare or a family member’s serious diagnosis. Beginning in 2022, Connecticut’s new paid leave program will provide a high reimbursement level, so that the lowest wage workers — those who need paid family and medical leave the most — can actually take it and stay financially afloat.
Public Act No. 19-25 is also inclusive to a wide range of families, especially to LGBTQ individuals whose caregivers are so often their chosen, rather than biological, family. Connecticut’s new program will respond to diverse family needs to ensure that workers can care for the people who matter most to them.
Twenty six years after FMLA, it’s about time we join the rest of the world – and every state in our region – to provide economic stability when workers need it most. No one should need to win the “boss lottery” to care for a loved one with cancer, recover from knee surgery, or welcome a new child to their family.
Now, we need transparent and efficient implementation of paid family and medical leave here in our state so that no worker will risk financial ruin when they need time to care or recover.
Danielle faced an impossible choice when her family needed her. Beginning in 2022, other workers in our state won’t have to.
Madeline Granato, Campaign Director, Campaign for Paid Family Leave and Policy Manager, CWEALF