On June 28th, 2023, the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin- Madison held a webinar, “Thirty Years of the FMLA: What’s Worked, What Hasn’t, and Recommendations for More Equitable Policies,” to discuss the advantages and drawbacks of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and ways to improve equity and access in the policy.

Marci Ybarra, Associate Professor, Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin–Madison, explored the historical background of FMLA and current challenges like unpaid, low-wage workers most likely being unable to afford time off from work, leave affordability varies across states, program knowledge, compliance, and racialized exclusion. Shetal Vohra-Gupta, Assistant Professor, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin, conveys the structuralized racism within the FMLA and ways to address the issue, like rewriting the policy to include language around racism and gender.

Maya Rossin-Slater Associate Professor of Health Policy at Stanford University School of Medicine, explained that paid family leave improves maternal and child health, allows little or no cost to employers, and has the potential to reduce inequalities in leave access. Although FMLA has protected worker rights for the last 30 years, specific provisions need to be applied to the FMLA to be equitable and accessible to improve health and work outcomes for workers who need FMLA most.

As a reminder, on May 17, 2023, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a permanent, national paid family and medical leave program. The bill would ensure that every worker, no matter the size of their employer or if they are self-employed or part-time, has access to paid leave for every serious medical event, every time it’s needed. CWLA is among the nearly 70 organizations that has endorsed this legislation.

By Ellison Olson, Policy Intern