Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FMLI), currently awaiting Senate approval, would address that age-old dilemma so many Idahoans and citizens across the country face at various times throughout their career: Either take much-needed time away from work to address family or medical needs, or continue to work during a medical crisis to keep financial responsibilities met. FMLI would provide paid medical and maternity leave to workers in a cost-effective and responsible way by issuing employees a portion of their wages while on leave. Supporting S.786 is supporting Idaho families.

The existing federal and state policy for family and medical leave, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), active these past 22 years, allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave in the event of medical necessity or maternity-related need. While this current policy provides much-needed job security by holding an employee’s position and health insurance benefits until the time that employee can return to work, the leave is unpaid. Many employees cannot afford to miss even one or two week’s worth of pay, however dire the need for time off may be. This has led to a prevalence of hasty return to work practices, which can further exacerbate medical conditions and put mothers and infants at risk for a variety of health complications. Further, the current FMLA policy is not accessible by many workers. In fact, 40 percent of workers in the U.S. currently do not have access to FMLA due to the fact that businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt from providing the benefit. In addition, employees who have been with a company for less than 12 months, or have accrued less than 1,250 work hours within twelve months, do not qualify for the FMLA benefit.

While the implementation of FMLI seeks to alleviate these limitations, it does not have to be expensive for business owners. It is an insurance plan, administered by a department within the Social Security Administration, funded by employee payroll withholdings or contributions. It is an insurance fund for which an employee can contribute and draw on when the need arises. States in which the paid-leave model has already been adopted include California, Rhode Island and New Jersey. All show favorable reports from business owners and employees alike. Business owners stated that having a paid leave policy has not only boosted employee morale, but has also reduced employee turnover rates and the cost associated with replacing employees. While some reviews from business owners were neutral, there were no negative reports from business owners regarding the implementation of paid leave.

In this way, our existing FMLA policy is the familiar, worn-out shoe that has served a valuable purpose but has now outlived its usefulness. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (S.786) is the long overdue upgrade for Idaho workers and families, and is a positive, and comfortably supportive, step forward in the evolution of family and medical leave policy.

Sunday Cross lives in Boise and is a master of social work student enrolled in the University of Southern California Online School of Social Work.