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Research Report

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The passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993 was a milestone in the development of America’s basic labor standards. But many realized that the Act—which guaranteed 12 weeks unpaid leave for employees of large businesses—was only a cautious first step. The US continues to lag far behind most other nations in providing paid time off for employees needing to care for family members or their own non-work-related illnesses.

States have begun to examine ways to expand both federal and state family and medical leave policies to make them accessible to more workers. State Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) programs—which currently exist in five US states to provide wage replacement for employees needing to take time off from their jobs due to personal illnesses or disabilities unrelated to their work (medical leave)—have emerged as promising models for providing paid family leave. States like New Jersey and California have begun to consider expanding their TDI programs by enlarging the definition of disability to include “family disability,” thereby enabling workers to take paid leave for FMLA-type reasons: for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for young children, or to care for a sick child, spouse or parent.

Massachusetts—which does not have a TDI program—also considered paid family and medical leave legislation modeled on TDI between 1988-1993, but these efforts were halted just after the passage of the FMLA in 1993. However, recent interest in expanding TDI to offer paid family leave in other states has grown in large part from the sense that the FMLA is inadequate in four main ways: 1) FMLA leave is unpaid; 2) many employees—particularly those of low income—are unable to take advantage of the new FMLA leave benefit (mainly because it is unpaid); 3) employees of businesses with fewer than 50 workers—about half of the American workforce—are not covered by the law; and 4) 12 weeks leave is considered too short for many leave needs. TDI programs, by contrast, offer paid leave for longer periods of time (as long as 26 to 52 weeks) and are generally not restricted by employer size, thereby covering more workers.



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