Twenty years ago this month, former President Bill Clinton signed a bill into law aimed at helping parents take time off after the birth or adoption of a child. The reality, however, is that many Americans still can't take time off, either because they're not covered or simply don't have financial means to do so.
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires some employers to provide up to three months of unpaid leave and the continuation of health benefits, but there are major gaps in who it covers.
For example, the law covers time off to care for a sick spouse, parent or child in addition to leave for a birth or adoption, but it is limited to opposite-sex spouses. As a recent New York Times article noted, about 40 percent of workers don't reap the benefits of this law because only companies with 50 or more employees are required to abide by it. Said employees must also have worked for their company for at least twelve months and have logged 1,250 hours during the last year.
Those restrictions limit the number of eligible people, but there's another critical issue at hand: The law offers time off, but doesn't stipulate paid time off. Many people cannot afford to take unpaid leave, even when it's technically an option. And the people who most often have access to paid sick leave – high-level managerial employees – are the workers least likely to need it financially.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States is the only advanced industrialized nation without a federal law providing new parents with options for paid family leave. Fewer than 12 percent of private-sector workers get paid family leave. Slightly more state and local government workers have access to some paid time off, but federal workers do not.
Proponents of paid leave argue it's good policy.