FMLA Anniversary: Where Do We Stand?


By: Tracy Zimmerman
North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation

Twenty-five years ago this month, Congress made history when it enacted with bipartisan support the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For the first time, a large number of working Americans could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

We have learned a great deal in the 25 years since FMLA was passed. For example, businesses that create family-friendly workplaces have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent, increasing productivity and employee satisfaction, and reducing absenteeism. And workplaces that support parents have a direct impact on their children’s health, well-being and future academic and career achievement.

Since FMLA passed, the number of working families has increased dramatically, creating a greater demand for family-friendly workplaces. In North Carolina, 26 percent of North Carolinians are 25-44 years of age, prime child-bearing and working years. Another way to look at it is that two-thirds of children under age 5 live in households where all parents are working.

At the same time, we now know more than ever about how young children develop. During their earliest years, children’s experiences are literally shaping the architecture of the developing brain – building the foundation for all future learning and health. Family-friendly workplaces allow parents to support their children’s optimal development.

That’s the impetus for Family Forward NC, an initiative designed by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation with founding sponsorship from Blue Cross NC. Through research and the exchange of ideas among business leaders, employees and organizations, Family Forward NC will promote a range of research-based best practices – big and small – that increase workplace productivity, recruitment and retention; grow a strong economy; and support children’s healthy development.

North Carolina businesses are ready. Recent interviews with more than 300 North Carolina employers and surveys with 300 employees from small, medium and large businesses across a wide range of industries show that employers and employees agree that family-friendly policies are not only good for children and families, they are an effective strategy for retaining talent and growing successful and competitive businesses.

We commissioned this research to better understand the prevalence of family-friendly policies, programs and practices currently offered to employees in NC, learn about the motivations behind them and assess employers’ appetite for expanding them. Some of the policies we explored in the research include flexible work schedules, pregnancy accomodations, telecommuting, subsidies for child care, onsite and back-up child care, family medical leave, and paid maternity and paternity leave.

These policies have positive outcomes for our future workforce, including improved child health, well-being and academic success. For businesses, these policies address problems such as absenteeism, lost productivity and employee turnover. As we launch Family Forward NC, we seek to support a North Carolina that is business smart, family-friendly, and future ready.

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