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Journal Issue: Caring for Infants and Toddlers Volume 11 Number 1 Spring/Summer 2001

Reports from the Field: Family and Medical Leave: Making Time for Family Is Everyone's Business
Lauren J. Asher Donna R. Lenhoff


When the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993, it became America's first federal policy explicitly designed to help employees balance work and family. It broke new ground by requiring employers to acknowledge employees' critical family obligations, and by recognizing the dual economic and caregiving roles of both women and men.

Although extremely modest when compared to policies in most other industrialized nations, the FMLA did not move easily from idea to implementation. Instead, it took nine years and the efforts of hundreds of individuals, organizations, and state and federal policymakers to establish the basic principle that people should not have to choose between their loved ones and their jobs. Since 1993, the FMLA has helped more than 35 million people keep their jobs and health insurance while caring for new babies and sick family members, or while recovering from their own serious illnesses. Approximately 18% of the leaves are taken to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child.2

The National Partnership for Women & Families led the fight for the FMLA from conception to enactment and continues to lead efforts to make family leave more available and affordable. This article tells the story of the contemporary movement for family and medical leave. What did it take to pass the FMLA? What has it achieved? And what are the next steps for making family and medical leave policies more meaningful for today's working families?