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PLATFORM : Workers Will No Longer Be Torn Between Family and Livelihood

August 05, 1993| The Family and Medical Leave Act takes effect today. Secretary of Labor ROBERT B. REICH told The Times about the potential impact on the country's 45 million workers:

This landmark law ensures that people will no longer have to choose between their jobs and their loved ones. It gives workers in firms employing at least 50 persons up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to deal with a serious illness or to care for a new child in the family, without risking their jobs or health insurance coverage.

Now, the working woman having a baby can choose to stay home for almost three months to get her newborn off to a sound start in life. The grown son can take time off to care for his ill, aged mother. And parents can take an unpaid leave from work to care for a seriously ill child. Today's work force includes record numbers of working women, two-career couples and single parents, all within an aging population. Family and medical leave gives them and other workers the freedom to fulfill responsibilities at home without endangering their roles as breadwinners. And it gives older Americans the security and dignity of knowing that, should the need arise, their children can take time off to care for them without putting their own families at risk.

Family and medical leave also benefits employers because a healthy family life and a productive work life go together. Workers who take leave to deal with medical needs or additions to the family can give their fullest measure of commitment to those jobs once they return to them. Sensible leave policies pay off for employers by lifting productivity and morale and decreasing turnover and absenteeism.

The flip side, of course, is that when serious family and medical needs are not accommodated in the workplace, we all pay--through lost productivity and retraining costs, as well as unemployment compensation.

A sensible leave policy points the way toward the American workplace of the future.

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