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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993 as a means of addressing the changing needs of workers’ family responsibilities. Under the law, anyone who works in a company that employs 50 or more people can take up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year without threat of losing his or her job. FMLA covers both pregnancy and adoption, as well as caring for a seriously ill relative. It also covers the individual employee’s own serious illnesses.

Many companies already had leave policies in place before the enactment of FMLA. Some companies, not surprisingly, are more generous than others. The need for federally mandated protection stems from several issues. First is the fact that families are changing. The two-parent one-income family, once the norm in American society, is less and less common. Two-income families and single-parent families have to deal with pregnancy, childhood illness, and a host of other situations that may require time away from work. In addition, a growing number of people are serving as caregivers for elderly parents. Whether in their home or the parent’s home, this service can turn into a significant expenditure of time.

Second is the changing structure of the workplace. With medical costs skyrocketing and wide economic shifts, some companies may be inclined to cut back on the amount of leave they want their employees to take. Or they may wish to withhold payment of medical benefits while an employee is on leave, even if that leave is related to a medical condition. Some companies may allow employees to take several weeks of medical leave and then not reinstate them. FMLA offers protection to employees so that they can take the time off they need without fear of recriminations.

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