Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced into Congress this week the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act to allow employees to take unpaid leave to care for a same-sex spouse or domestic partner.
The legislation would also allow for unpaid leave to care for a parent-in-law, an adult child, a sibling, a grandchild or grandparent.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted 1993, has meant that over 50 million Americans have been able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave in order to care for infants, sick relatives or to recover from an illness themselves. This allowance have been credited with improving employee retention and reducing turnover. However, current law does not allow for lesbian or gay Americans to take leave in order to care for their same-sex spouse. While this disparity has been remedied by several states and the District of Columbia, and while hundreds of companies have created their own policies to cater for their employees in this way, coverage is not universal so lesbian and gay employees continue to be vulnerable in this regard. Ultimately, they may face the agonizing decision of whether to risk losing their livelihood in order to care for their spouse.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act aims to change all that.
“Regardless of the make-up of one’s family, all employees should be given the same rights to care for a sick loved one in a time of need,” Durbin said. “For 20 years, we have had a law that provides unpaid leave for families in crisis. As families change, so should the laws designed to help them.”
“The Family and Medical Leave Act has helped millions of Americans meet their family’s needs for care, comfort and support since its enactment in 1993. But families have been changing, as the recent great victory for marriage equality in New York demonstrates, and the law must keep up,” Maloney said. “To care for a child or a parent or a spouse is no different than to care for a domestic partner or same-sex spouse, child of a domestic partner, or adult child, sibling or grandparent– and the law should reflect that. Anyone facing a crisis deserves the help of their closest loved ones.”
The landmark Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) allows millions of Americans to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work to care for a new baby or to care for a spouse, child under age 18, or parent who has a serious health condition.
Groundbreaking at the time if its enactment, a growing number of families cannot take advantage of the benefits it provides. Under current law, employees are not permitted to take FMLA leave to care for a same-sex spouse or partner, making it impossible for some employees to be with their loved ones during times of severe medical need. The same restrictions apply to grandparents or adult children with serious health conditions, even if the employee is the only person that can provide the care needed.
The Family Medical Leave Inclusion Act is supported by over 80 organizations, including: National Association of Working Women; AFSCME; American Pediatrics Association; ACLU; Families USA; Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD); Human Rights Campaign; People for the American Way; SEIU; and; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The bill’s cosponsors in the Senate include Senators Sanders (I-VT); Merkley (D-OR); Whitehouse (D-RI); Blumenthal (D-CT); Leahy (D-VT); Kerry (D-MA); Gillibrand (D-NY); Coons (D-DE), Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Akaka (D-HI).
“We applaud Representative Maloney and Senator Durbin for their continued leadership on behalf of LGBT families,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. ”Under current law, far too many caregivers, including same-sex spouses and partners, are placed in the impossible position of choosing between taking care of their families and maintaining their livelihoods. This legislation would remove an unfair and unconscionable burden on working families and we urge Congress to pass it”
The Family and Medical Leave Act has been introduced into Congress a number of times before but has so far failed to gain traction. It is hoped that with renewed resolve to end discrimination against LGBT families, and with growing bipartisan support for such legislation, especially where the issue of marriage is not explicitly tackled, the legislation may finally pass.
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to danny hammontree.