A colleague of mine in the Obama administration sparked a political controversy about 15 years ago when she wrote about the impact a village can have in raising a child. While I’m sure many are disappointed that the politics guiding that debate remain much the same, there is little doubt that caring for a child involves the village now more than ever.
In today’s America, families look different than they did in the past. Modern families have changed complexion, changed composition, and changed expectations. Yet regardless of the changes within a family, its function in our society remains the same – to provide for and nurture the development of future generations.
When the Family and Medical Leave Act was first passed in 1993, it was a huge step forward in establishing the flexibility and security that the American workforce needed to care for our future generations. It allowed employees to take unpaid leave to care for their kids without the fear of losing their jobs.
But while many are quick to point out that the workplace, workers, and indeed the concept of families have changed, the flexibility to apply FMLA to shifting conditions did not.
Well, the Administration took a major step in recognizing the need for such flexibility on Tuesday when the U.S. Department of Labor issued Administrator’s Interpretation No. 1010-3, which clarifies the definition of “son and daughter” under the FMLA. In doing, so we have expanded FMLA protections to cover loving caregivers that have traditionally been left out.
It’s called in loco parentis, a Latin phrase and legal doctrine that may require interpretation for those of us who are not lawyers: It means “in the place of a parent.” And when applied to the new realities of work and family, it means all employees who have assumed the responsibility for parenting a child, whether they have a biological or legal relationship with the child or not, may be entitled to FMLA leave.
What does that mean in the real world? It means that children can get the support and care they need from the people who love them and are responsible for them.
It means that we’re recognizing the importance of a partner who shares in the parenting of a child in a same sex relationship, and his or her right to FMLA leave. It means that we are recognizing the importance of “Tia” (Spanish for aunt) who steps in to care for her young nephew when his mother has been called to active military duty. And it means that a grandmother who takes responsibility for her grandchild can – when needed — take unpaid time off of work to do it.
It’s an important interpretation and it is a long time coming.