“In my current career, I have had the blessing and misfortune to use FMLA twice. Once to bring a child into the world, and once to grieve the loss of my eight-year-old son. I am fortunate that my union contract has expanded the benefit beyond the basic requirement of the law, but that expansion would never have been made if the law was not in place to begin with. The ‘standard’ three-day bereavement leave may be enough to arrange the affairs of an elderly departed parent, but not to deal with the sudden loss of your child. Because of FMLA, I was able to grieve, to be there for my remaining children when they truly needed me and to get grief counseling that helped us survive such a tragedy.” --USW worker who used FMLA. See more testimonials below.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was the first legislation that President Bill Clinton signed into law on Feb. 5, 1993, barely two weeks after taking the oath of office. It was also the first national legislation that established an employment standard acknowledging that men and women need time to care for family members or for personal illness without risking their jobs.
The United Steelworkers (USW) was part of a purposefully broad, national grassroots coalition that fought for nearly a decade to pass the FMLA and included over 100 groups that represented labor, civil rights, religious, academic, medical and women's and children's advocacy organizations.
Since then, the law has helped millions of American men and women balance their work and family lives by requiring most employers to provide workers with 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave due to an illness of their own or an immediate family member or for the birth or adoption of a child.
While FMLA has been very successful in strengthening families, keeping workers in their jobs, reducing turnover and saving businesses money, too many workers still do not have access to the benefit and many families living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford to take unpaid time off.
Studies show that workers who belong to unions are more aware of their rights under this law and as a result are more likely to use it. While we clearly have more work to do, today we reflect on how the FMLA has touched many of our families.
The USW asked Steelworkers around the country to provide examples of how the FMLA has impacted their lives and workplaces. We are sharing the responses below, though names and locations have been removed to protect individual privacy:
"About the time I was hired at my current job, I also found out that I was pregnant! Talk about exciting -- this job was better than any other I had had in the past. However, the news of my pregnancy was unexpected and I was afraid that I would lose the job. They assured me, however, that that was not the case. As the pregnancy went on, I had complications and was put on bed rest when I was about seven months along. I ended up missing much more work than anyone anticipated. Although it was very hard to leave my perfect and new baby boy, thank goodness for FMLA and that I had a job to come back to.”
"FMLA benefited me, personally, 10 years ago when my husband’s hand was partially amputated at work. I exhausted all my vacation and sick days, so without FMLA I would not have been able to stay home and take care of him and our children after his many surgeries and hospital stays."
“I use FMLA intermittently to transport my mother to doctors’ appointments and once for surgery. It has been a huge relief to be able to take time off work and not have to stress or worry about being disciplined for absenteeism.”
“My parents are both still living, though my dad has Alzheimer's and mom has advanced dementia. They are in a full care facility, but as their medical power of attorney, I still have issues to deal with at times. FMLA has allowed me to be available when one of them needs to go to a hospital, or when there are medication issues or just a night when one of them needs comforting. My FMLA is intermittent, and I don't need to use it often, but when I do need it, it's great to be able to take that time and care for my parents.”
"In 2001, my mom passed away in New York. Funeral leave in the contract at my Ohio factory for parents was three days. I needed more time before and after her passing and used FMLA to do it. I’d never used it before but am very thankful it was there when I needed it.”
“Two years ago, my 92-year-old grandmother became ill and was hospitalized. I am the closest relative as her son and daughter were in Florida, and she lived in Ohio. Because in my childhood my grandmother was my legal guardian, I was entitled to FMLA in order to attend to her medical needs. This happened only by chance as in conversation with Human Resources, they explained that grandparents aren't included. In that same conversation I mentioned that my grandparents adopted me shortly after birth. Had that conversation not happened I would have had to worry about the security of my job in addition trying to care for my grandmother.”
“I have used FMLA’s intermittent leave provisions at my job for myself and to care for my husband. In my case, I have a condition in my lower back that is chronic and related to arthritis. FMLA covers me being off when I am in too much pain to report to work. It's an unpredictable situation. After my husband underwent surgery on his spine, he could not move from the waist down for months. I take care of him, so I filed for FMLA to take him to doctor’s appointments intermittently.”
“I work with several nurses that have used it in the past or are using it presently. For myself, I used it for end-of-life issues for my father, who lived several hours away. Eventually, he needed care 24/7, often requiring two caregivers. FMLA allowed me to take time off work and travel with my sister to provide him that care until he passed. It was about six weeks for me using intermittent FMLA on Fridays and Mondays so that I could spend my weekends with him without the threat of losing my own job. There are several nurses here who have used FMLA to take care of their elderly parents in this way. Another coworker has an adult child with severe disabilities. She also takes intermittent leave when his health needs require it, without threat of losing her job or being disciplined for missing work. This enables her to keep her child in the home with homecare while she goes to work and also helps prevent long-term hospitalization or nursing home care for her son.”
“FMLA has allowed a co-worker to take intermittent time-off of work to take her mother to her doctor’s appointments 75 miles away from home. Her mother has major eye problems and cannot drive. FMLA has enabled her the time-off without any concern regarding her position at work.”
“I needed FMLA to be a caregiver for my mom when she needed one of her kidneys removed. We were not sure of her recovery time and how much help she would need. Turns out, I didn't even need a full week’s worth of days, however, FMLA gave me the worry free, stress free confidence to take care of my mom and not have to wonder if I would be in jeopardy of losing my job.”
“At the age of three, my daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. FMLA simply allowed me to be there for her, through all the low blood sugars, high blood sugars, sick days, doctor visits and hospital visits … and still have a job to go back to.”
“My husband was in a serious car accident and had to be flown to a hospital out of town. He was in the trauma unit for seven days. He had internal injuries, a shattered knee and femur bone. After he was released, I had to stay home and take care of him for a month. My employer has a strict attendance policy, and without FMLA, I would have been fired for missing work. Also, my brother suffers from severe migraine headaches and has been able to take FMLA leave when the pain gets too severe for him to work. If not for FMLA, he would have been fired due to our attendance policy at work.”
“I had the opportunity to use FMLA in a year that brought as much joy as it did sorrow. In January of 1999, I had a baby and took time off after his birth. I returned to work after 6 weeks, only to find out 6 weeks later that my dad had stage IV cancer and was terminal. My dad lived over 6 hours away, so intermittent leave was not an option. My dad was a single father that raised 3 children on his own, and FMLA allowed me to care for him in his time of need.”
“As president of my local union, I assisted many people in filing for FMLA, but in 1998, I had to use it myself. I worked in a factory that ran continuous operations, so coverage was always an issue. Had FMLA never been signed into law, I would not have had any leverage to take intermittent time off work to assist my mother with medical treatments. Prior to FMLA, I would have had to take an unnecessary non-paid leave of absence for a specified length of time instead of a half-day once a week to assist my mom. FMLA afforded me, as an only child, the opportunity to care for my mother without being off work for a lengthy period and placing hardship on my own family. While FMLA still needs improvements, I was glad it was there when I needed it.”
“The benefit of FMLA that I experienced was being able to travel to a different state with my parents when my mother underwent a very serious surgery. The morning of her surgery, she had a massive stroke and was hospitalized for a month (not the week we expected) and placed on life support. FMLA allowed me to be there the entire time and focus on my mom and not have to worry about if I would have a job when I returned.”
“My husband had a full liver transplant; I used FMLA to take him to the hospital for appointments and emergencies before and after his surgery.”
“My son has Autism. When he was younger, I used FMLA leave to take care of him. It was intermittent leave (as needed). Without FMLA I would not have been able to leave work for the many emergencies at school and countless doctor appointments. I do believe my being there for him has helped dramatically with his mental and physical well-being. Before FMLA, I was at risk of losing my job because of my son's needs (my attendance). Once FMLA passed, I no longer had the additional stress of worrying about losing my job.”
“I personally used FMLA a few years ago. I live in the West and my mother lives on the East coast. She was diagnosed with stage III lymphoma. I had just started my employment and didn't have enough vacation. Thanks to FMLA, I was able to make 3 trips home, one to make her Thanksgiving dinner. I was glad it was available because it gave me the opportunity to spend the time with her that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
“I used FMLA when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I was able to keep my job, make doctor’s appointments, etc. and still care for my son. I had to miss quite a few days of work, yet because of FMLA, I didn't have to worry about being fired because of absenteeism.”
“Prior to FMLA, a woman I worked with asked the company for an unpaid leave so she could assist her dying mother in Kentucky. She was told she needed to choose between her mother and her job. She chose her mother. She wasn't someone the company was looking for an excuse to get rid of. She had a good work record and was always available for overtime, but she lost her job anyway. Post FMLA, a guy at our mill had been trying to start a family for some time. He was overjoyed when his wife became pregnant with twins. Unfortunately she miscarried. FMLA allowed him to be with his wife after the miscarriage and later to travel with her to Russia for an overseas adoption. Finally, a woman I work with has twins with asthma. She was able to use the intermittent features of FMLA whenever they needed medical attention.”
“I personally used FMLA to give birth to both of my children. I currently use FMLA for intermittent leave to care for my son with high functioning autism. I represented an employee in the plant that utilized FMLA to protect their job while battling leukemia.”
“FMLA has relieved the stress and worry that used to accompany taking time off for a family member’s illness. It used to be that time off to care for family members would be counted against performance and an employee had to use their own sick time allowance in order to care for a sick child. When my two children were little, I used to have to use my own sick time in order to stay home with them when they were sick. There was always a counseling that came after using your fifth day and it would always affect performance reviews, so that in turn, affected wages. I remember an instance of taking one of my daughters to daycare and walking away as she was crying with her arms outstretched because she was not feeling well, but I couldn’t afford to call-in sick. The daycare ended up calling me at work to come pick up my child because she had a high temperature. I felt like garbage and I still remember that horrible feeling. I still carry that guilt of not being able to stay home as often as I should have to take care of my children when they were sick. Even after it was signed into law in 1993, it wasn’t advertised by my employer as being an option to sick time or vacation time to care for a sick family member. It seemed, the less we knew about our rights the better. Recently, I have had to take time off at various times (some of them unscheduled) to care for my ailing father who has been diagnosed with cancer. I definitely feel the difference of not having to worry that I might not have a job if my absences to care for him continue.”
“Without FMLA, I would not be able to manage my Diabetes. I have great days most of the time, but when a bad day with crazy readings of my blood sugar comes up, I know it will be ok since I might need to be off work. With FMLA in my corner, it is just one less thing for me to worry about.”
“I have benefited from FMLA greatly. When I was pregnant, I used intermittent FMLA for my doctor’s appointments because they can never schedule you after work. And I was able to spend 8 weeks at home with her because of it too. That was really awesome.”
“On April 2, 2008, my dad passed away in a hospital. I work in Southwestern Pennsylvania and my dad lived in Southern New Jersey. FMLA allowed me to be with him off and on from the end of January until his death. We were very close and I cannot thank the USW enough for getting FMLA for its members like me. Thank you very much.”
“I had my first two children before FMLA and my third child after it was made law. What a big difference to be able to stay home with my new born child until he was 12 weeks old! It breaks a mother’s heart to have to leave their child to go to back work too soon, and this law made it possible to stay home and bond with my new born child a little longer.”
“My husband was diagnosed with stage IV cancer on June 30, 2012. By September 27, he was very sick. I was able to use FMLA for peace of mind that I could continue to stay off and provide 24-hour care. I was able to stay in survival mode, never thinking once he would leave me, but on November 29, 2012, he lost his courageous battle. I was by his side.”
“As a long-time union activist, I have seen how FMLA has helped to protect the employment of workers that had sick spouses, parents or children. Even workers themselves, when faced with long-term serious health conditions, enjoy greater job security where contracts with no fault absentee policies had gaps that sometimes jeopardize a workers job. Not until this year did I, a twenty-year worker with relatively good health, need the job protection of FMLA laws. My mother was diagnosed with a serious health condition that required weekly treatments. She was unable to go to these treatments unassisted. FMLA allowed me to care for my mother without having to worry about my job. During such stressful times, any other leave of absence available under my union contract would have been at the discretion of management, which is subjective. Thank goodness for a law that provides a framework for workers to care for loved ones at such an important time.”