Time Off from Work

On this page: Employment


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993 with strong support from AARP, provides an extraordinarily useful benefit for older workers and working families generally. It allows individuals who work for employers with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they have a “serious medical condition;” to care for a parent, spouse, or child with such a condition; or to care for a newborn or newly adopted or fostered child. Employers are required to maintain their workers’ health insurance on the same terms as during active employment and must have the same or a substantially similar job available on the employee’s return to work.

However, many workers are left out of the FMLA’s protections. They include those who work for employers with fewer than 50 employees and workers caring for extended family, partners, neighbors, and friends (rather than immediate family). They also include those who simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave and miss a paycheck.

In the years since the law’s enactment, policymakers have sought to improve the leave situation of workers who lack any paid time off. Proposals to provide paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and similar proposals have been made at the federal, state, and local levels, but such proposals have picked up the most momentum at the state and local levels. A few states and localities have created paid-leave programs that are funded by utilizing preexisting temporary disability insurance programs, financed by additional payroll taxes and mostly paid for by employees.

One long-standing federal proposal that purports to assist workers in balancing work-family obligations would allow employees to trade overtime pay for “comp time” leave. However, legitimate concerns have been raised about whether employees would feel pressured to take comp time rather than overtime, which is more expensive for employers.

Time Off from Work: Policy

Family and medical leave

Congress and the states should improve the FMLA and state FMLAs by lowering the jurisdictional threshold to employers with fewer than 50 employees, while still excluding very small employers and covering all primary caregivers regardless of family relationship.

Proposals to help working caregivers must protect current benefits and the rights workers enjoy under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other fair employment laws.

AARP supports the creation of paid family leave programs, as long as adequate funding is available and their creation would not jeopardize adequate funding of or benefits under preexisting social insurance programs.

Sick leave

Employers should be required to provide employees with a reasonable number of days of paid time off.

Employers should offer a wide range of workplace accommodations and flexible schedules to enable family caregivers to fulfill their caregiving and paid work responsibilities.