August 5, 1998
Five years ago this week, the first bill my husband signed after taking
office went into effect -- the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Before then, too many Americans -- Americans like George and Vicki Yandle
-- had to choose between spending precious time with a loved one and losing
In January 1987, George and Vicki's youngest daughter, Dixie, was diagnosed
with cancer. Doctors amputated her left leg and immediately began chemotherapy.
During Dixie's illness, both the Yandles took time off from work to care
for her -- and both were fired from their jobs.
In September 1992, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act and
sent it to President Bush, who vetoed it. But the following year, my husband
signed the FMLA, and in August, it became law.
Sadly, though, this was too late for the Yandles. Dixie had died in April.
She was 17.
Since 1993, millions of Americans have taken advantage of the FMLA's protections.
The law allows workers in companies of 50 or more -- 88 million people --
to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the birth
or adoption of a child, to care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent
or to recover from their own serious illness. While on leave, the employee's
job and health insurance are protected.
Let me share a letter I received from Lynne Wade, of Highlands Ranch, Colo.,
who took advantage of her rights under the FMLA:
"I am writing to let you know that two months ago my husband died
of congestive heart failure after ... several years of illness.
"Because your husband signed into law the Family and Medical Leave
Act, I was able to transport him to doctor appointments and hospital visits.
"The act enabled me to keep my job and bring him comfort at the end
of his life. I will be eternally grateful."
Thanks to the FMLA, Lynne did not spend the critical last months of her
husband's life worrying about whether or not she would have a job after
According to a bipartisan commission's report called "A Workable Place,"
over 80 percent of FMLA leave is used to care for serious illnesses. Mike
and Molly Goodson of St. Paul, Minn., though, took back-to-back FMLA leave
when their two daughters were born.
Many of Mike's male co-workers told him they wished they, too, had taken
time off when their children were born. Molly agreed: "I think it's
great that more men are taking leave." As a matter of fact, 42 percent
of all FMLA leave is taken by men.
A new study from the Families and Work Institute tells us that family leave
is not only good for workers; it's also good for business. Despite concerns
that the FMLA would burden companies with administrative hassles and expenses,
84 percent of employers find that the benefits of providing family and medical
leave offset or outweigh the costs. In fact, many businesses note reduced
employee turnover, enhanced productivity and improved morale. And nine out
of 10 employers agree that the law is easy to administer.
Elizabeth Carlson, Director of Human Resources for the National Futures
Association for over 10 years, reports, "I feel confident that I speak
for all levels of management ... when I say that our experience with this
leave policy has been very positive."
E-SOURCE, an information service company in Boulder, Colo., chose to adopt
FMLA leave policies for its 48 employees although it was not required to
do so. Chief Financial Officer Joan Wright considers the benefit a "real
plus for recruitment" that more than pays for itself in employee retention,
loyalty and lower administrative costs.
She argues that the FMLA should be expanded to include smaller companies
such as hers because it's "the right thing to do."
I agree. Now that we've seen how important this law has been for America's
workers, why not extend its reach? Why exclude those who work in smaller
companies? In times of family crisis, shouldn't they, too, be able to take
job- protected leave?
And what about other family obligations? Shouldn't we, at the same time,
recognize the importance of routine commitments, such as parent-teacher
conferences or medical appointments? Isn't it time to expand the FMLA to
allow workers 24 hours of leave each year to meet these responsibilities?
When my husband signed this bill into law, he declared, "Family and
medical leave is a matter of pure common sense and a matter of common decency."
It's about letting Lynn Wade spend her husband's last days caring for him
without fear of losing her job. It's about letting Mike and Molly Goodson
take the time to welcome their newborn daughters into the world.
It's about respecting the rights and responsibilities of all Americans
as they struggle to balance work and family.
For more information about the FMLA, you can call the U.S. Department of
Labor at 1-800-959-FMLA.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns,
visit the Creators Syndicate web page at
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