|Two states are considering
proposals to provide more workers with a right to take extended
leave to care for seriously ill family members. A similar
measure was introduced but failed in Congress two years ago.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
was enacted into federal law in 1993. Covered
employers must grant a worker up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to
care for a seriously ill parent, child, or spouse.
Similar statutes have now been
enacted by 11 states, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii,
Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont,
Washington, and Wisconsin. These state laws generally
provide employees with more coverage.
expanded its law in 2005 to provide partial pay to workers who take family medical
come from a portion of the California unemployment insurance fund
which is funded totally by employee contributions.
California's paid family leave
act has been used by 400,000 workers since it went into effect.
This year, state Senator Sheila
Kuehl introduced a bill (SB
727) to expand eligibility to care for a grandparent,
grandchild, or sibling. Current law in California already
includes domestic partners.
In support of her bill, Kuehl
cited a government report showing that most claims which have
rejected by the state's family leave fund involve workers caring
for grandparents or siblings.
San Diego radio station KPBS ran
a news segment about the Kuehl bill earlier this month. It
included a sound clip from Carina Barlow, a medical records
technician, who was denied leave to care for her brother.
older brother had a heart attack due to diabetes," Barlow said.
"And I was denied time off work simply because I was not his
wife, his mother or his child."
Legislature is considering a bill which would allow workers to take extended leave
to care for a domestic partner. This would include an
unmarried opposite-sex or same-sex partner who has lived with
the employee for 12 months if the couple are financially
Dennis Damon sponsored the bill (LD 375) which would require all
businesses in Maine with 15 or more employees to provide the same family
medical leave to married and unmarried couples alike.
Representative Janet Mills, co-sponsor of the measure, said it
would help unmarried heterosexual couples and nontraditional
families, as well as gays and lesbians.
The Maine State Chamber of
Commerce has indicated that it will testify in support of the
Even if the
enacted into law, the measure will come too late for state
employee Sandra Osterby. She had asked for extended leave in
2004 to care for Donna Curtis, her lesbian partner of more than
was diagnosed with lung cancer, needed assistance as she
underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
able to take time off, but only by using her own vacation days
and personal sick days. When that time was used up, fellow
workers donated their own vacation days to make up the
Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and
44 co-sponsors introduced a bill two years ago to expand federal
include domestic partners, grandparents, siblings, and parents
in-law. The bill died in committee.
The Family Medical Leave Act was
a popular political issue, at least with Democrats, in the early
It was Bill Clinton's promise to
enact such a law which helped him win the presidential race in
1992. Former President George Bush had twice vetoed the
Public opinion solidly supports
the Family Medical Leave Act. Some polls show a
majority of Americans supporting its expansion to include some
form of paid time off for extended leave to care for a family
member who is seriously ill.
Initial opposition by business
leaders has dwindled. According to a bipartisan
commission, 84 percent of employers now believe that the
benefits of providing leave under the FMLA offset or outweighed
The new Democratic majority in
Congress should closely watch what happens in California and
If these state measures are
enacted, the timing may be right for a renewed effort to expand
federal law to move beyond spouses and children to include
various unmarried family relationships.
also consider offering some form of paid leave.
Unmarried America 2007
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and