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As the 20th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act focuses attention on how unnecessarily hard it is to be both a worker and a mother or other family caregiver, Danelle Buchman writes of her own experience. She was a part-time employee at a organization too small to be covered by FMLA when she became pregnant with her second child.  The following is her story.

It is the 20th anniversary of the FMLA law. It’s a great law, but it needs some work.

In June 2010, my second child, Avery, was born a full eight weeks early. It was completely unexpected and a truly traumatic time for our family. In addition to a caesarian section to save the lives of my child and myself, I endured an emergency hysterectomy, thus losing my ability to carry any more children at the age of 34. In addition to a painful and extended recovery time for me, Avery spent 28 days in the NICU. My oldest daughter was only 14 months at the time, and our family had a very difficult time managing my recovery, Avery’s medical appointments, and caring for my oldest daughter.

The reason I’m speaking out about it is because amid all of this chaos, despite repeated promises from my employer that my position was safe, I lost my job.

My employer at the time was the Maryland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for Cure. How shameful — given that many of the women Komen Maryland serves are helped by the FMLA law – which allows full-time working women to focus on their health without worrying about losing their job.

A women’s health organization such as Komen Maryland should be the model for other companies who choose to go above and beyond the current flawed law to help protect their valued employees during happy times like maternity leave and unhappy times, such as during illness or an accident. Yet Komen refused to honor the spirit of the law in my case.

Among other flaws, the current FMLA law doesn’t cover part-time employees, which I was when my daughter was born prematurely. It is shocking that an organization that claims to support women in health crisis couldn’t honor the spirit of the FMLA law by allowing one of its own employees to recover from a health crisis, as well as care for a premature child, without losing her job.

Another flaw of the FMLA law is that it is unpaid, causing huge financial strain on families. I was ultimately able to find a new employer, but the time I spent out of work during my recovery combined with the time it took to find another job led my family to a very rough couple of years financially. One of the reasons I’m choosing to fight for FMLA reform is to protect women who don’t have the family support that I do.

No one, man or woman, should have to worry about losing their job when medical issues force them to take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones.

The United States, along with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, are the only three countries in the developed world with no paid parental leave policy. What an embarrassing group for the United States to be in. By comparison, France allows up to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers.

Forty percent of the U.S. population is not covered by the current law. Two-thirds of moms are now in the labor force and nearly half serve as their family’s primary breadwinner – yet current policies have not caught up with the modern workforce. Since women are the only gender to carry children, and are typically called upon as the primary caregiver of the family, these outdated policies are clearly discriminatory and wrong. The United States should be a leader in fair parental leave policies, not a country that lags far behind.

NOW is the time for federal and state FMLA reform. I will tell my story far and wide until change is made.

Thanks, Danelle, for telling us your experience.  The Washington Post published “Landmark Family Leave Law Doesn’t Help Millions of Workers”  which features Danelle’s  picture and story and  shows how inadequate the FMLA is for American workers in the 21st century.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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