MEDIA RELEASE: Caregiver Relief Act would help working caregivers hold onto their jobs

RALEIGH (April 1, 2013) — North Carolina lawmakers filed legislation last week focused on filling the gaps in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which passed with strong bi-partisan support 20 years ago to guarantee working Americans protected time to care for their loved ones.

The Caregiver Relief Act, filed on March 28 in the Senate by Senators Eleanor Kinnaird, Earline W. Parmon, and Angela R. Bryant and in the House by Representatives Alma Adams and Larry Hall, would extend the protections of the FMLA to allow eligible employees to care for a sibling, grandparent, grandchild, stepparent, or parent-in-law.

“We are a state that prides itself on family values,” said Senator Kinnaird. “The FMLA has had a tremendous impact on the lives of North Carolina’s working families. But without expansion, many are unable to put family first. We need to expand the protections of FMLA so family leave becomes more accessible.”

The FMLA offers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave, which workers can use to care for a new baby or sick family member, or to recover from an illness, according to a fact sheet released  by the NC Justice Center and NC Families Care, a coalition of individuals and organizations working to make North Carolina’s workplaces more family friendly.

"The FMLA is a crucial piece of legislation that has been used an estimated 100 million times to provide job-protected, unpaid leave to women and men across the country to recover from a serious illness, care for a new child, or care for a seriously ill spouse, parent, or child,” said Beth Messersmith, Campaign Director of NC MomsRising and co-coordinator of NC Families Care. “It’s time to fill the gaps to ensure that all workers can fulfill their family responsibilities without falling out of the workforce."

To be protected by FMLA, a worker must be employed by a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles, work 1,250 hours per year, and be on the job for at least a year. FMLA excludes more than half of the workforce, including employees in smaller companies and many part-timers, and has a narrow definition of family that does not include grandparents, grandchildren, or siblings.

“Today’s reality is that we are a state of working family caregivers,” said Mary Bethel, Associate State Director for Advocacy for AARP North Carolina. “There are 1.2 million family caregivers in North Carolina who provide care for older and disabled adults. And North Carolina ranks 6th in the nation in the number of children cared for by their grandparents.”

Many states have expanded or improved the Family and Medical Leave Act by lowering the employer threshold, expanding the definition of family beyond child, spouse and parent, increasing the allowable uses under the FMLA, and establishing family leave insurance programs. North Carolina lawmakers have taken important steps toward filling the gaps by introducing the Caregiver Relief Act.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Sabine Schoenbach, NC Justice Center's Workers' Rights Project, sabine@ncjustice.org, 991.856.2234; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (cell).
 

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