Mother’s Day is the time we show our mothers and grandmothers how much we appreciate them and the sacrifices they made to take care of us. Most of us had no idea growing up what it took for our parents and other caregivers to balance family, work and life responsibilities.
Thanks to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, many working women have been afforded unpaid time off to care for our children and other family members without worrying about the loss of our jobs or health insurance benefits.
But for the working women of my mother’s generation, no such protection existed − the FMLA was only passed 20 years ago, in 1993. Employees were rarely able to take leave to care for an ill family member. Women who wanted to have a career as well as a child were often not given any accommodation to take time off to give birth and rear their newborns. If a worker needed to take time off for one of these important reasons, there was no guarantee she or he would not be fired.
Today there are 72.6 million women who work outside the home. A growing number of these women have children under the age of 18 (almost 71 percent), are single mothers with children under the age of 18 (almost 76 percent) or are caring for someone who is ill, disabled or aged. We know women still face many barriers to full participation in the workforce, and there is a continuing need to adopt practices that meet working mothers’ (and fathers’) needs in the 21st-century workplace and beyond.
Since 1993, we know FMLA leave has been used more than 100 million times, and has made a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of workers. We also know that the FMLA has not imposed an undue burden on employers, based on the results of a recent survey.
This Sunday, we wished moms everywhere a happy Mother’s Day. In the days and weeks that follow, let us recommit ourselves to the beliefs that inspired the FMLA, and renew our efforts to create fairer and healthier workplaces for working women.
Latifa Lyles is acting director of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.