As the organization that drafted and led the fight for the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), the National Partnership knows that it was always meant to be a first step in helping people meet their work and family needs. Sadly, the nation has yet to take another. That’s why I was pleased to testify in Pennsylvania today where lawmakers are considering legislation that would build upon the FMLA by giving more workers access to family leave to care for a sibling, grandparent or grandchild.
The bill is called the Pennsylvania Family and Medical Leave Act (H.B. 298), and it recognizes just how much has changed with our workforce, our economy and our family caregiving responsibilities since the FMLA became law 20 years ago. By expanding the definition of “family member” for the purpose of taking leave, the measure could make a big difference for Pennsylvania workers and their families.
H.B. 298 was inspired by Anne Marie Pearson (right) from West Chester, Pennsylvania. Anne left her job after she was denied family leave. She had to make that difficult choice in order to care for her sister, Joanne, who was diagnosed with late stage cervical cancer and needed significant care. Anne lost Joanne several years ago and has been fighting ever since to update Pennsylvania’s law so that siblings can provide care for their loved ones without jeopardizing their jobs.
H.B. 298 would allow Pennsylvania workers who are eligible for the FMLA to take up to six weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off to care for a sibling, grandparent or grandchild. But there are some limitations that I encouraged the committee to revisit: As currently drafted, the bill would only allow eligible workers to take leave time to care for these family members if the ill loved one does not have a parent, spouse or adult child who can provide care. And the six weeks H.B. 298 would provide is just half of the 12 weeks provided by the FMLA, and much less than other states provide.
Still, despite these limitations, enacting H.B. 298 would be a significant step in the right direction for Pennsylvania and the country. And today, along with Anne Marie Pearson and representatives from PathWays PA, Family Values @ Work, Small Business Majority and AARP Pennsylvania, I urged members of the House Labor and Industry Committee to advance it — for workers like Anne, and for the good of the state’s families and economy.
If H.B. 298 is adopted, Pennsylvania would join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in increasing access to family leave through a more inclusive definition of family. Even more states have established laws that extend family and medical leave to workers in smaller businesses, for more reasons and for longer periods of time. All of these laws are victories for working families and support efforts to enact the federal expansions of the FMLA that America’s workers and families need.
In the meantime, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have an opportunity to join states that are leading the way toward a more family friendly America. Members of the committee and then the state House and Senate should pass H.B. 298 without delay — and then build on it to meet the needs of hardworking Pennsylvanians.