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Family and Medical Leave Act nice but lags behind many other countries' benefits

A recent spat between a female Fox News anchor who had just returned from maternity and a talk show host has revealed that some people are not familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act and the benefits applicable employees are entitled to under the Act.

Generally, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to public agencies, schools and private companies with 50 or more employees. Employers subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the birth and care of a newborn, to care for an immediate family member's serious health condition or when the eligible employee is not able to work because of a serious health issue. Employees that use unpaid leave time under the Act are also entitled to return to their job or an equivalent position.

Despite the benefits the Family and Medical Leave Act provide, the United States lags behind many countries that provide paid maternity leave. The leave time under the FMLA is unpaid and the majority of businesses in the United States are not subject to the benefits of the Act. According to statistics from the 2010 Census, over 97 percent of businesses in the United States have 100 employees or less and a great number of those businesses have less than 50 employees. In addition, more than half of the U.S. workforce is employed by businesses with less than 50 employees. Therefore half of working Americans are not eligible for the FMLA.

One-hundred and seventy-eight countries around the world guarantee paid leave for new mothers and more than 50 countries guarantee paid leave for fathers. In Iceland paid maternity and paternity time is split in thirds. Mothers are given three months of paid leave. Fathers are also given three months of paid leave, and a final three months of paid leave is divided between the two parents.

Source: The Washington Times, "Maternity leave: U.S. lags far behind other industrialized countries," Amanda Brozana, Aug. 21, 2001

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