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Amid efforts to raise minimum wage, lawmakers push for paid leave

To be eligible for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • You've worked for your current employer for at least a year.
  • In the last 12 months, you've worked 1,250 hours.
  • At least 50 people work for your employer within 75 miles of your place of employment.

FMLA provides for unpaid medical or family leave for qualifying employees. The maximum time off for most employees under FMLA is 12 weeks a year. Spouses, children, parents and next of kin of seriously injured or ill military service members may be eligible for 26 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA. A list of qualifying reasons for FMLA leave can be found at our main employment law website.

While these benefits are certainly crucial for many Americans, the Community Service Society, which is a charitable organization, found that if you have a minimum wage job in New York, then you probably can't afford to take more than eight days of unpaid leave before your life savings is used up. In other words, if you are a working pregnant woman, or if you need to take care of an ailing loved one, then the current minimum wage isn't likely to go far once you take advantage of your FMLA benefits.

So far, paid leave is mandated by only three states: New Jersey, California and Rhode Island. In late 2013, two Congresswomen introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, more widely known as the Family Act. If passed into law, this bill would provide for paid leave for employees who need to care for a seriously ill family member or a newborn.

The Family Act and the ongoing fight for a living minimum wage are only two items in a longer list of reforms that could strengthen workers' rights in a time of vast income disparity. If your employer has denied your FMLA claim or not paid you your wages, then know that you are not alone. There are legal avenues for effecting change and holding employers accountable.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "How To Love Paid Family Leave," Lauren Sandler, July 17, 2014

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