On FMLA 25th Anniversary, Many Iowans Still Not Eligible for Family Leave
DES MOINES, Iowa — On the 25th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, advocates for a mandatory, national family-leave policy say eight in ten Iowa families face economic insecurity when they need time off work to care for themselves or a family member.
Federal law requires that businesses with 50 or more employees allow those who are eligible to take unpaid medical or caregiver leave. Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said that means moms and dads often go back to work much sooner after a birth or adoption because they can't afford unpaid time off.
"What paid leave would do is set a baseline, both in terms of policy and the ability to access a portion of your wages when you need to take time away from your job,” Shabo said. “But it also sets a baseline for culture, and makes leave available and affordable for employers that want their employees to be able to have access to leave, but maybe can't afford it on their own."
During his first State of the Union address last week, President Donald Trump called for a paid family leave policy. The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world without one.
While current federal law guarantees unpaid leave to some workers, Shabo noted it's inaccessible to 61 percent of Iowa workers - either because their workplaces aren't covered by the law, or they can't afford to take time off without pay. She said that's tough on households in the state, where 77 percent of parents with children have jobs.
"And what that means is there isn't a 'default person,' who's caring for a new child or dealing with a family member's serious health issue,” she said.
In 2002, California became the first state to adopt laws that provide paid family leave benefits to eligible workers. A handful of other states have followed, but Iowa isn't one of them.
More information on working families and FMLA is availabe at NationalPartnership.org