The Biden administration on Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by urging expansion of the provisions guaranteed by the law and inviting former President Clinton, who signed it in 1993, to speak at the White House.
President Biden was also joined by Vice President Harris to commemorate the signing of the FMLA in the White House’s East Room.
The law requires certain employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if employees are sick, have a new child in their household or are taking care of a sick family member, without the risk of the staffer losing their job.
Biden on Thursday issued a memorandum calling on the heads of federal agencies to “support access to leave without pay for Federal employees” so that they can bond with new children or take care of their own health or the health of their family members.
His memo urged federal agency leaders to consider allowing their employees to access leave within the first year of their employment. Federal employees currently only qualify for leave after one year.
“Get cancer after six months? Your wife, your husband [does?] … Look, I’m a great respecter of fate. And I know all too well you can’t schedule when your loved one might need your help badly,” Biden said in his speech on Thursday.
The president also issued a directive to the Office of Personnel Management to create recommendations helping federal employees to “find safety from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking,” which the president referred to as “safe leave.”
According to Clinton, the FMLA is the action that people most often mention to him since he left office. The former president recalled a woman who told him shortly after he left the White House that it had enabled her and her sister to take care of their parents who were both dying around the same time.
“She said, ‘I know how your families, how your parents die is an important family value.’ It was breathtaking. I never get on a shuttle after 20 years that I don’t think about that woman,” Clinton said of the encounter.
Harris similarly related how she was able to take care of her mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I spent many hours with her at the hospital and driving her to and from chemotherapy appointments. Fortunately, however, I had the type of job then where I could take the time I needed to be with my mother, but far too many others cannot,” she said. “And let us be clear: In America, in the 21st century, every worker should be able to take time off to care for themselves or for the people they love.”
The Biden administration has recently taken action to expand leave for some federal employees.
Last month, the Department of Defense issued a memo expanding the Military Parental Leave Program so that a member of the military will be authorized to take up to 12 weeks of leave after giving birth, adopting child or starting a long-term foster care situation. This 12-week period could begin following a period of convalescence, to account for the time a new mother needs to recover after giving birth.