Family and Medical Leave Legislation: Organizational Policies & Strategies

Article excerpt

Nationally, much attention has been given to the problem of balancing work and family responsibilities. The issue of problems that working families face is not an insignificant one as nearly one-half of all married mothers of infants are in the work force (Zigler & Frank, 1988). There are conflicting needs of all involved, making it difficult to deal with the problems working families are confronted with; e.g., parents' work schedules often cut into their time with their infant, infants need care from their parents that supports healthy development in the early stages of life, and employers depend on responsible and available employees.

During the past several years, some of the cutting edge firms have established leave policies and implemented employee benefits packages that include protecting a woman's job for at least six weeks after childbirth. For example, U.S. Sprint offers a family leave of absence to support family adjustments and prevent high-performing employees from leaving the company. IBM offers up to three years of personal leave, including six to eight weeks of paid leave for recovery from childbirth. New mothers or fathers (natural or adoptive) may be granted up to three years of unpaid leave with the option of working part-time during the period. Throughout the leave, employees continue to receive full benefits. A percentage of adoption expenses is also reimbursed. However, policies in other companies have not always been as generous or consistently applied. For example, some companies only allowed female employees to take family leave but not male employees.

Given the recent recession, the rising divorce rate, and an increasing number of children born out of wedlock, the traditional family has changed. Employment policies have fallen behind in addressing these changes. The phenomenon of the two-paycheck or single-parent family is one that has occurred so quickly that our nation has had little time to realize its impact, understand the range of issues it raises, or generate solutions for the resulting problems. More than 70 percent of American women between the ages of 20 and 50 are employed and, as of 1987, more than half the mothers of children under one were working or seeking work (Stoiber, 1990). The reality of the working parents' phenomenon is somewhat disturbing in that these parents are, in effect, often penalized for what is a necessity: earning money to care for their children and to support their families. As women have continued to enter the work force and remain there after having children, the issue of maternity leave has taken on new importance. In addition, as the population ages, many employees find themselves needing time off from work to care for their elderly parents. Employees are being compelled to take leaves of absence to fulfill their many responsibilities (Nobile, 1990). Too often, however, if an individual takes a leave of absence and then decides to return to work, there might not be a job to return to.

To alleviate the work-family conflict that many parents face today, as well as to remove the inconsistent polices companies have been using to control leaves of absence, parental leave initiatives have been undertaken at both the federal and state levels. At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (Public Law 103-3) was signed by President Clinton on Friday, February 5, 1993, after just 16 days in office, granting workers unpaid leave for family emergencies. The House, on February 3, 1993, voted 265-163 to send the bill to the Senate. The following day, the Senate, after finally pushing aside a GOP attempt to attach a gays-in-the-military amendment, overwhelmingly passed the bill on the evening of February 4, 71-27. The president's signature on February 5 was the culmination of eight years of effort by Congress, women's groups, labor and business. Previously, the bill was twice vetoed by former President George Bush (in 1990 and 1992) - he refused to place another government mandate on business. …