On FMLA Anniversary, Bill Clinton’s Words Ring More True Than Ever

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

Someday soon, America’s president could sign the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act into law. On that momentous occasion, he or she would be well served to echo the words of President Bill Clinton. Twenty-three years ago, upon signing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Clinton said: “Currently, the United States is virtually the only advanced industrialized country without a national family and medical leave policy. Now, with the signing of this bill, American workers in all 50 States will enjoy the same rights as workers in other nations.”

FMLA, which granted some workers access to unpaid, job-protected leave, brought the U.S. closer to other developed countries. Since its passage, workers have taken more than 100 million FMLA leaves. Unfortunately, the majority of U.S. workers are still waiting for paid leave, in contrast to those in other countries. Indeed, the U.S. is the only developed country that fails to provide paid maternity leave.

The FAMILY Act would provide workers up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, enabling them to draw on an insurance pool funded through small employee and employer payroll contributions. With this landmark legislation, Americans would truly “catch up” to workers across the world—fulfilling the promise of Clinton’s speech more than two decades later.

There is vast public support for paid family and medical leave from Americans of both major political parties. In fact, new polling just released this week shows yet again that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans see updating the nation’s family and medical leave law to include paid leave as important. Yet, even with this strong support, and despite considerable data to the contrary, some groups claim that paid family and medical leave insurance will burden employers.

Just in time for FMLA’s anniversary, we have new evidence that paid family leave is, put simply, no big deal for employers. A new study of Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program—one of three statewide paid family leave programs, along with California’s and New Jersey’s—reveals virtually no negative effects on employers’ productivity or employees’ morale and attendance. Moreover, a majority of employers expressed support for the program when surveyed one year after launch. In both Rhode Island and California, paid leave has been a relative non-event. In fact, evidence is mounting that these policies actually benefit employers, a reality apparent to small businesses owners, who have expressed strong support in nationwide polling.

As President Clinton said in 1993, “it is only when workers can count on a commitment from their employer that they can make their own full commitments to their jobs. We must extend the success of those forward-looking workplaces where high-performance teamwork has already begun to take root and where family and medical leave already is accepted.”

Testimonials from employers around the country speak to the benefits of paid leave policies. Dan Teran, CEO of Managed By Q, a fast growing “smart office management” startup that has gone from 2 to more than 500 employees in under 2 years, explained: “We support the federal bill, the FAMILY Act, which would enable workers across the country to use family and medical leave insurance and support employers like us, who want to do the right thing but may not be able to bear the full cost of paid leave. At Managed By Q, we believe our business will grow precisely because we put our workers first—and we think the same is true for the economy more broadly.”

The time has come to put U.S. workers on equal footing with their global counterparts—supporting work/life balance while giving businesses a boost. With a strong business case for paid leave and support from a growing list of high-road employers, Congress has every reason to pass the FAMILY Act. Perhaps one day soon, our president will stand in the Rose Garden and proudly echo President Clinton’s enduring words.