Sen. Smith, Rep. Underwood Introduce New Legislation to Expand FMLA Coverage, Strengthen Worker Protections

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14) introduced new legislation to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 to more workers. Every year, nearly 2.6 million workers who need family or medical leave do not take it because they fear losing their jobs if they do and are currently ineligible for FMLA protections.  

The Job Protection Act would be the largest expansion of family and medical leave protections in nearly 30 years. The legislation would extend FMLA protections to tens of millions of vulnerable workers – no matter the size of their employer or their full- or part-time status – by shortening the timeline for employees to be eligible for coverage. Importantly, the Job Protection Act also ensures workers can take full advantage of existing or future paid leave programs without fear of losing their jobs. 

In the Senate, the bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Padilla (D-CA), Sen. Warren (D-MA), Sen. Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Murray (D-WA).

“Under our current laws, employees are required to work for the same employer for an entire year before they are eligible for job protection if they have to take leave for a family or medical emergency,” said Sen. Smith. “The Job Protection Act would make sure that millions more workers can take family or medical leave and not have to choose between their jobs and taking care of their families.”

“The Job Protection Act is common-sense legislation to ensure every worker in America can take family and medical leave without risking losing their job,” said Rep. Underwood. “As we build a better America by fighting to expand paid leave, it’s essential to ensure workers—whether they work for a small employer or they work part time—also have the right to return to their jobs following leave.”

“Since its initial passage in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act has offered important protections for American workers, but we must update this legislation to meet the needs of the modern workforce,” said Sen. Durbin. “Every employee should be given the same rights to care for themselves or a sick loved one. I’m signing on to the Job Protection Act to ensure that every American worker has the flexibility to take protected leave when they need it most.”

“Far too many workers are being denied crucial FMLA coverage due to requirements that are difficult to meet, and it’s disproportionately impacting women and workers of color who may work part-time, have multiple jobs or are reentering the workforce,” said Sen. Padilla. “All workers deserve access to family and medical leave, that’s why I’m proud to support the Job Protection Act to expand the number of workers eligible for the necessary benefits and protections FMLA provides.”

“Over 29 years ago, the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law – allowing most American workers to take unpaid time off to care for a family member or for themselves without worrying that their job won’t be there for them when they return – but outdated rules disproportionately exclude women and workers of color from FMLA benefits,” said Sen. Warren. “While we continue to work to pass paid family and medical leave for all Americans, we need to do more and expand FMLA coverage so that more working families have a real opportunity to build a future for themselves and their kids, and that’s exactly what the Job Protection Act would do.”

“While we continue fighting to make paid leave a right for all workers—not just a privilege for some—the Job Protection Act will make sure part-time workers, new employees, and employees at businesses of all sizes have the right to family and medical leave,” said Sen. Murray. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Smith and Rep. Underwood—because no one should ever fear losing their job or health coverage because of a medical emergency or because they need to take care of their own family.”

“Employees should never have to choose between caring for their families and earning a paycheck,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “Passing the Job Protection Act would ensure that the millions of Americans who work part-time, at multiple jobs, or for small businesses can take time off to recover from illness, the birth of a child, or a family emergency without putting their livelihoods at risk. Guaranteed family and medical leave is an investment in our families and our middle class and it is long overdue. Nearly 3 decades after we passed the FMLA, I look forward to fighting alongside my colleagues to expand its protections to many more Americans.”

Currently, only 56 percent of the U.S. workforce is protected by the FMLA, leaving out workers at smaller employers, people who work one or multiple part-time jobs, and those reentering the workforce who either lost their jobs or had to quit due to caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Job Protection Act’s extension of FMLA protections to people returning to the workforce, as well as those who have reduced their hours due to caregiving or medical concerns, will be critical to ensuring Americans are able to return to and stay in the workforce without sacrificing their health or the health of their families.  

A video recording from the press conference announcing this legislation can be found here. 

A list of the over 100 national, state, and local organizations who endorse the Job Protection Act, including paid leave advocates, women’s and labor rights organizations, and labor unions, can be found here. 

The Job Protection Act closes gaps in FMLA coverage and strengthens the law’s protections by:

  • Expanding protections to those working for smaller employers by reducing the current FMLA coverage threshold from 50 employees to one employee.  
    • It also eliminates the requirement that a workplace have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, which currently excludes an estimated 33 million workers. 
  • Protecting part-time workers and those working multiple jobs by eliminating the requirement that an employee work 1,250 hours at a single workplace over the previous year. 
    • The hours requirement disproportionately impacts women—nearly two-thirds of part-time workers are women. 
  • Ensuring that people changing jobs or returning to the workforce will be protected by reducing the amount of time they must have worked at their workplace from 12 months to 90 days. 
    • This requirement excludes more than one in five workers, and especially large shares of women (23.3 percent), Hispanic workers (25.5 percent) and Black workers (25.8 percent).