Today I attended the “15th Anniversary of Family Medical Leave Act: Achievements and Next Steps” hearing on Capitol Hill. The House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held the hearing.

The subcommittee is chaired by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-06) and ranking member Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC-02). Other members in attendance were:

  1. Donald Payne (D-NJ-10)
  2. Timothy Bishop (D-NY-01)
  3. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)
  4. Phil Hare (D-IL-17)
  5. John Kline (R-MN-02)
  6. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA-25)

A distinguished panel of experts testified on the history, implementation and future of FMLA. The first person to testify was the Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Employment Standards Victoria Lipnic. Victoria’s testimony focused on the DOL’s experience at administering FMLA and the recently published Notice of Proposed Rule Making on FMLA. Victoria said:

Fifteen years ago, Congress recognized that maintaining a careful balance between the legitimate rights of employees and employers in the workplace was the key to making the FMLA a success. Today, after 15 years of experience in administering and enforcing the FMLA, the Department is pleased to report that the FMLA is generally working well in the majority of cases and has succeeded in allowing working men and women to better balance family needs and work responsibilities

Next to testify was the Honorable Pat Schroeder (the “Mother of FMLA”), former Congresswoman from Colorado. Pat’s testimony focused on the history of the passage of FMLA. One interesting quote from Pat was:

It took nine months to deliver each of my children and nine years to deliver FMLA!”

Next up to the plate was new mother Chante Lasco. Chante testified about her experiences being a County Prosecutor and having to take FMLA for the birth of her new child Cooper (who was there to see his mom testify and very adorable). Chante had to use a combinations of paid and unpaid time off for her maternity leave.

Next witness was Jennifer Hunt a flight attendant representing the Association of Flight Attendants. Jennifer testified about how FMLA was supposed to apply to flight attendants, but in practice it does not apply. Jennifer told the subcommittee:

I and thousands of other full time, working flight attendants in this country have unfortunately been unable to take full advantage of this benefit. This problem arises out of the fact that our pay hours are calculated in a very unique way for airline flight crews – flight attendants and pilots – than are those in other industries. Our unique situation demonstrates that one size does not fit all.

Next up was Brenda Cossette who testified on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management. Brenda has over 25 years experience as an HR manager and is currently undergoing treatments for breast cancer. She testified about her own experiences using and administrating FMLA. Overall, she believed that FMLA has been an overwhelmingly positive program, but did believe there were a few problems in the administration of FMLA. She said:

HR professionals have two primary concerns with the Act’s regulations: the definitions of “serious health condition” and “intermittent leave.” For example, with regard to the definition of serious health condition, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a statement in April 1995 advising that conditions such as the common cold, the flu, and non-migraine headaches are not serious health conditions. The following year, however, the DOL issued a statement saying that each of these conditions could be considered a “serious health condition.” Practically any ailment lasting three calendar days and including a doctor’s visit, now qualifies as a serious medical condition (due to DOL regulations and opinion letters).

Last, to testify was Debra Ness the President of the National Partnership for Women. Debra testified about how she believes FMLA is working well, but should be expanded to include paid leave. Debra said:

I am especially pleased to be here today because this year marks the 15th anniversary of the FMLA. Its passage was a watershed moment for government support of working families in the United States. The law guarantees eligible workers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for immediate family members or to address serious personal health concerns. By making job-protected leave available to all eligible workers, and requiring that health insurance continue through the leave, the law has enabled both women and men to meet their responsibilities for their families without sacrificing their jobs and long-term economic stability.

By Susan Holbrook