U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

American workers gained greater job security with the passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which guaranteed adequate leave time for employees in times of family and medical emergency.

Summary of Event

On February 3, 1993, the U.S. Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a comprehensive plan to ensure job security and leave opportunities for U.S. employees in times of family and medical need or crisis. President Bill Clinton signed the act into law on February 5, and it took full effect on August 6, 1993. Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) Employment;job security [kw]U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies (Feb. 5, 1993) [kw]Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies, U.S. (Feb. 5, 1993) [kw]Job Security During Family Emergencies, U.S. Congress Guarantees (Feb. 5, 1993) [kw]Family Emergencies, U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During (Feb. 5, 1993) [kw]Emergencies, U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family (Feb. 5, 1993) Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) Employment;job security [g]North America;Feb. 5, 1993: U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies[08530] [g]United States;Feb. 5, 1993: U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies[08530] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Feb. 5, 1993: U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies[08530] [c]Social issues and reform;Feb. 5, 1993: U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies[08530] [c]Business and labor;Feb. 5, 1993: U.S. Congress Guarantees Job Security During Family Emergencies[08530] Bush, George H. W. [p]Bush, George H. W.;Family and Medical Leave Act Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;Family and Medical Leave Act Dodd, Christopher John Schroeder, Pat

Through much of the twentieth century, the paradigm for families in North America was clearly defined: Husbands worked in the marketplace and provided financial support, and wives stayed home managing domestic life and child care. Women looked after children or ailing family members. Husbands tended to be “company men,” so employers were not likely to accommodate family crises. Extended families were concentrated; there was often a grandparent, cousin, or other relative nearby who could help with family caretaking.

Shifts in lifestyles, demographics, and work patterns had rendered this paradigm virtually meaningless by the 1980’s. The number of women in the workforce increased dramatically during the wartime 1940’s, declined temporarily after the war’s end, but then grew again. Economic realities engendered double-income families, and the women’s movement encouraged women to establish their own careers. Only 19 percent of women in the United States worked outside the home in 1900, but by the early 1990’s, that figure was as high as 74 percent. With increased rates of divorce and unmarried parenthood, single-parent families became common, especially in inner-city, impoverished, and minority communities. In 1988, 27 percent of families had a single parent, twice the percentage of 1970.

Another change was the increase in life expectancies as a result of advances in medical technology, both in general and in the treatment of serious illnesses. People lived longer, and the U.S. population as a whole had aged dramatically. In 1993, the thirty-two million citizens over the age of sixty-five constituted 12 percent of the populace and was its fastest-growing segment. Home care of the elderly often was viewed as preferable to institutionalization, and many serious illnesses could be treated without hospitalization. According to the National Council on Aging, at least 20 percent of the workforce had some caregiving responsibilities.

As a result of these factors, a vast majority of American workers potentially faced difficult choices between work and family. A 1990 study by the Southport Institute for Policy Analysis estimated that 11 percent of caregivers were forced to quit their jobs to care for relatives. The U.S. Small Business Administration estimated that 150,000 workers were losing their jobs annually because they could not take medical leave. Others found their jobs less than secure when they were ready to return from leave. In the absence of a national policy, even sympathetic employers could change policy without notice. The employee had little true protection.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) of 1978 provided certain guarantees, but comprehensive federal legislation was needed. Prior to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the United States was the only industrialized nation in the world without such a law; Japan provided twelve weeks of pregnancy leave with partial pay, and Canadian women were given forty-one weeks. Sweden offered eighteen months of family leave for use at the time of birth and when a child entered school. Norway, Austria, France, England, and Luxembourg had laws that provided leave for the care of an elderly parent.

Family and medical leave legislation was proposed several times during the 1980’s, only to meet congressional gridlock and presidential vetoes. Earlier versions of the act were very strong, offering up to twenty-six weeks of leave. Conservatives of both parties feared that such legislation would weigh heavily on businesses and strongly opposed any federally mandated employee policies. President George H. W. Bush vetoed a watered-down 1992 bill, offering instead his own plan based on refundable tax credits for employers. Even the 1993 measure was almost blocked by Senate Republicans with an extraneous amendment reaffirming the ban on homosexuals in the military. However, in the opening weeks of the Clinton administration, the 1993 act was passed by bipartisan margins in both houses.

The Family and Medical Leave Act required U.S. employers to offer limited unpaid leave in four circumstances: upon the birth of an employee’s child; upon the arrival of an adopted child; in cases in which the employee is needed to provide care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition; or in cases in which the employee is afflicted with a debilitating health condition. The act also provided definitions and restrictions to balance employers’ and employees’ interests. It ensured that employees returning from leave be given the same or a comparable position and salary with full benefits reinstated. The act exempted businesses with fewer than fifty employees, which could be seriously impaired by the loss of essential employees, and established employee eligibility according to length of employment. It also dealt with issues such as the substitution of available paid leave, advance notification of leave-taking, and formal certification of debilitating health conditions. The act established the bipartisan, sixteen-member Commission on Leave and gave the secretary of labor investigative authority for enforcement. It also opened the door for employees to initiate civil actions to remedy alleged violations.


Many viewed the act as a halfway measure that achieved more by its mere existence than by its specific guarantees. The national policy stopped short of numerous state laws and countless corporate policies already in effect. Conversely, an estimated 50 percent of U.S. workers did not work enough hours or for large enough companies to be covered. The cost to the employee of unpaid time off remained too high for many workers to afford to leave to take care of family problems.

In 1992, the Family and Work Institute released a three-year study of a thousand companies in Rhode Island, Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin regarding compliance with state leave laws. The researchers found that 91 percent reported no trouble adapting to state rules, 94 percent of leave takers had returned to their positions, and 75 percent of supervisors reported a positive effect on company business. It was estimated to be two to five times as expensive to replace an employee permanently as to grant temporary leave. A large number of companies with established leave policies, including such giants as Du Pont, AT&T, and Aetna, reported limited problems and favorable results—including cost-effectiveness—from their family leave programs.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 established important guarantees without a major overall effect on either the nation’s economic health or its business practices. It helped to standardize those practices and relieve family leave policy making of the pressures of business competitiveness. Since the act has taken effect, hundreds of lawsuits and complaints have been brought to the courts and the Department of Labor. In 1995, new rules were issued to clarify the situations covered by the act and the procedures required of both employees and employers in requesting and granting leave. Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) Employment;job security

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bauer, Gary L. “Leaving Families Out.” National Review, March 29, 1993, 58-60. Argues that the Family and Medical Leave Act is a betrayal of conservative approaches to strengthening the family.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Family and Medical Leave Legislation.” Congressional Digest 72, no. 1 (January, 1993): 2-32. Provides an overview of family and medical leave legislative history and prospects as of the start of the 103rd Congress. Presents arguments for and against the policy by thirteen lawmakers, including President George H. W. Bush and Senators Bob Dole and Ted Kennedy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jasper, Margaret C. Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 2005. Brief work explains the provisions of the law in lay terms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maynard, Roberta. “Meet the New Law on Family Leave.” Nation’s Business 81, no. 4 (April, 1993): 26. Explains the act in lay terms and explores the problems it might pose for employers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murray, Marjorie. “Family Leave: Read This Before You Take (or Give) It.” Working Woman 20, no. 5 (May, 1995): 15. Presents an update on the law and explains the clarifying rules issued two years after its passage. Emphasizes the limits of the act and the confusion it has engendered in a variety of situations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Saltzman, Amy. “Time Off Without Pain.” U.S. News & World Report, August 2, 1993, 52-55. Offers a practical discussion on the new law, including anecdotes about several workers who experienced the types of difficulties the law was intended to address.

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Categories: History