An Open Letter Regarding FMLA Reform

FMLA 1

By Laura Newberry-Yokley

Dear Esteemed Legislator:

I want to tell you a story. It’s a good one with a happy ending, but it’s one that requires immediate policy change.

Let me set the scene. I used to be a high powered, emerging leader at a large health care company, who traveled several times a month, worked on nights and weekends, and loved my job.

On August 20, 2013, I went out on a date with my husband. We didn’t make it to the concert, because I collapsed in our friend’s kitchen. I stopped breathing for 30 seconds. Luckily, a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and several chest compressions brought me back. I spent the next four months on the couch and visiting specialist physicians of every type trying to determine a diagnosis and then the next six months working part-time with what little energy I had regained.

My company was wonderfully supportive through this time. Don’t get me wrong, they provided excellent medical leave. I was able to eat, pay my medical bills, and keep my household running. I am grateful, very grateful, for their support and for the policies they were complying with.

While I was out on medical leave, though, I got pregnant. I can joke now about being horizontal and getting pregnant. But it wasn’t funny at the time. I was barely sustaining my own life. How was I going to support and grow another life too? Another grateful experience, because I did. And I have a nine-month-old, healthy son to show for it.

I fell through the cracks. My pregnancy was normal – not a disability – but I had the debilitating illness of my own.

You probably understand how medical leave and maternity leave work. To qualify for FMLA, an employee must have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months and clocked at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12 months leading up to FMLA leave. Any organization with 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius of the work site must comply with FMLA.

A normal pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If a woman experiences pregnancy complications that substantially limit a major life activity, she may be considered disabled under the ADA and, therefore, entitled to reasonable accommodation to perform her job.

FMLA and short term disability work well enough if you don’t get sick and pregnant in the same twelve month period like I did. I can argue too that paid maternity leave isn’t provided for everyone or isn’t long enough, but I want to argue that maternity leave should be separated from medical/disability leave. Companies must comply with federal regulation; most are doing what they’re required to by law. But it isn’t enough.

What I didn’t realize about FMLA and short-term disability is that your 12 weeks of FMLA exhausts first and then your short-term disability kicks in. You do not get to decide how your FMLA is to be allocated, like I thought. I thought I would be able to reserve my FMLA leave for my son. Suddenly, it dawned on me, my FMLA was what I was planning on using for maternity leave and it was no longer available.

I had exhausted all available leaves. So, my company and I parted ways – there was no other way forward.

I grew up with the saying, “every mother is a working mother.” And I have had two very different experiences with both of my children. I was a professional working mother with my first and now I am a stay-at-home working mother this time. In the nine months since giving birth to my son, I’ve incorporated self-care into my day by walking and writing. In July, I started my own company, where I examine with my clients the self-exploration of leadership and cultural and linguistic aspects of global business. Let’s face it. I’m doing what I love – being a more-present mom and consulting on the things I am truly passionate about (diversity and inclusion; social entrepreneurship; leadership). So this story ends well.

I also grew up knowing that women’s bodies are immensely powerful beyond measure. I know of my own body’s power – I was able to heal, grow and birth two children, and rally after experiencing long-term illness. So that story ends well, too.

Our policies must support our powerful bodies to their fullest extent, even in illness. Please change the laws so that:

  • Maternity leave reclassified so it does not reside in Family Medical Leave Act.
  • If one gets pregnant when they are sick, they should not be penalized.
  • All moms require paid maternity leave. No current law requires companies to provide paid maternity leave – most comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Yet 11% of Americans employed by private industry have access to some form of paid family leave.

Thanks for reading. I know I’m quite possibly an exception to the rule, but you’ve got to figure, I’m probably not the only one who has experienced this.

Sincerely,

laura

Laura - Headshot 3 Laura Newberry-Yokley is a cultural innovation consultant and holistic leadership coach with Sonrisa Products, LLC.  She has spent her career researching women around the world.  She works to close health disparities for vulnerable populations and teaches Self-care to her clients.

Logo Follow Laura on Twitter @sonrisaproducts

“THE FACTS” on Obama Presidency

2009

  • STIMULUS –  Passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to spur economic growth.  Since its passage, the private sector for 23 consecutive months has produced more jobs than it has lost.
  • AUTO INDUSTRY – $62 billion in federal dollars along with $13.4 billion loan during Bush administration kept auto industry from collapse. Since, the industry has added more than 100,000 jobs.
  • TORTURE POLICIES – Ended policy that allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo “enhanced” interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions.
  • PAY EQUALITY – Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.  Gives women paid less than men for the same work, the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if the discrimination happened years ago.
  • NATIONAL SERVICE – Signed Serve America Act, authorizing tripling the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012.
  • WILDERNESS AND WATERSHED PROTECTION – Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), designating  more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.
  • FDA TOBACCO REGULATION – Signed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Law mandates tobacco manufacturers disclose ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels.  Bans the sale of misleading labeled “light” cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.
  • CREDIT CARD REFORM – The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act, prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification.  Mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.
  • HATE CRIMES – Signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands existing hate crime protections to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin.
  • FEDERAL AGENCIES AND GREEN LEADERS – Signed executive order that requires all federal agencies to plan to soften their environmental impacts by 2020.
  • RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGY – In 2009 stimulus, invested $90 billion in research on smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, renewable electricity generation, cleaner coal, and biofuels.
  • MINORITY FARMERS – Claims Resolution Act provided $4.6 billion in funding for legal settlement with Black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties in years past.
  • CARBON DIOXIDE –EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, allowing the agency to regulate its production.
  • HEALTH COVERAGE FOR CHILDREN – 2009 Children’s Health Insurance Authorization Act allows the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children, paid for by a tax increase on tobacco products.
  • STEM CELL – Eliminated the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research which shows promise in treating spinal injuries, among many other areas.
  • U.S. SUPREME COURT – Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009.
  • INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL CRISIS – Secured from G-20 nations $500 million for the IMF to provide lines of credit and support to emerging market countries keeping the world’s economy out of recession in 2009 and 2010.
  • BANKS – Treasury Department plan to bring private capital into the country’s largest banks via “stress tests” approved along with a public-private fund that bought banks “toxic” assets, allowing them to avoid collapse and get back on their feet at zero cost to the government.
  • RECOVERY.GOV – Web site by independent board of inspectors general looking for fraud and abuse in stimulus spending, provides public with detailed information on every contract funded by $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

2010

  • HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION RECONCILIATION ACT OF 2010 – Affordable Care Act is passed insuring that an additional 30 million Americans will have health insurance by 2014. 
  • WALL STREET REFORM – Mandates large banks provide “living wills” to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits banks ability to trade customers’ money, and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to eliminate abusive lending products and companies.
  • STUDENT LOAN PROGRAM/PELL GRANT SPENDING – The 2010 health care bill also included provisions to end the practice of banks providing college loans. This will save $67 billion over ten years.  Students now get federal student loans directly from federal government.  $36 billion of savings goes to expand Pell Grants to low-income students. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 strengthened the Pell Grant program and provided investment in community colleges, historically black colleges and minority serving institutions and makes it easier for students to pay back college debt.
  • VETERANS – Increased 2010 Veteran Affairs budget 16% and 2011 10% for soldiers with serious physical/mental challenges returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Signed new GI bill providing $78 billion in tuition assistance and multiple tax credits to businesses who hire veterans. 
  • IRAN – Signed Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act punishing firms/individuals aiding Iran’s petroleum sector. With major Western powers imposed sanctions on Iran’s banks.  Pushed Japan, South Korea, and China to shift their oil purchases from Iran.
  • FAIR SENTENCING ACT – Signed legislation that reduces sentencing disparity between crack versus powder cocaine possession from 100 to1 to 18 to1.
  • TRIMMED AND REORIENTED MISSILE DEFENSE – Cut the Reagan “Star Wars” missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.
  • SCHOOL NUTRITION – With Michelle Obama, signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.
  • U.S. SUPREME COURT – Nominated and obtained confirmation for Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010.
  • START TREATY – Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty limiting each nation to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.
  • GULF OIL SPILL – Though lacking statutory power to compel British Petroleum (BP) to act, used moral authority of the office to convince BP to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • RACE TO THE TOP – $4.35 billion in stimulus funds used to create competitive grants to encourage and reward states for education reform.
  •  NEXT-GENERATION SCHOOL TESTS – Devoted $330 million in stimulus money to pay consortia of states and universities to create competing versions of new K-12 student performance tests based on latest psychometric research. New tests could transform the learning environment in vast majority of public school classrooms beginning in 2014.

2011

  • OSAMA BIN LADEN – Special forces killed the 9/11 architect and head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden.
  • IRAQI WAR – U.S. military forces removed from Iraq.
  • HOSNI MUBARAK – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule ended on February 11, 2011
  • MOAMMAR GADHAFI – March 2011, US joined a coalition of European and Arab government’s military action to defend Libyan civilians from Gaddafi regime and forty-two-year rule.  No American lives were lost.
  • FUEL STANDARDS – Released 2011 fuel efficiency standards that nearly doubles the fuel economy of cars and trucks by 2025.
  • ASIA “PIVOT” – In 2011, shifted American military/diplomatic priorities and focus from the Middle East and Europe to the Asian-Pacific region. Executed strategy of positively engaging China while reasserting U.S. leadership in the region by increasing American military presence and crafting new commercial, diplomatic, and military alliances with neighboring countries made uncomfortable by recent Chinese behavior.
  • MINI STIMULI – To assist families hurt by the recession and spur economic growth extended to December 23, 2011 unemployment insurance and cut payroll taxes.
  • FOOD SAFETY – In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  Increased FDA’s budget by $1.4 billion and expanded its regulatory responsibilities to increase number of food inspections, issue direct food recalls, and review food safety practices of countries importing products into America.
  • BAD FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES – To fight predatory practices of for-profit colleges, the Department of Education issued “gainful employment” regulations in 2011.  This cut off commercially focused schools from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren’t paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his or her total earnings servicing student loans.
  • BROADBAND COVERAGE – Obtained in 2011 Federal Communications Commission approval for a shift of $8 billion in subsidies from landlines to broadband Internet for lower-income rural families.
  • DIRTY POWER PLANTS – New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011 will likely close sixty-eight to 231 of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
  • POST-9/11 MILITARY BUILDDOWN – With bipartisan support in summer 2011 reduced projected defense spending by $450 billion.  Proposed new DoD budget to shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyber warfare.
  • SPACE SHUTTLE AND MOON MISSION – The expensive ($1 billion per launch) shuttle program made its final launch on July 8, 2011.  Cut funding for problem-plagued Constellation program to build moon base.  Supported private-sector low-earth orbit ventures, research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, and unmanned space exploration, including the largest interplanetary rover ever launched, which will investigate Mars’s potential to support life. 
  • NO SCANDAL – As of November 2011, served longer than any president in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word “scandal” (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post.
  • “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL”: REPEALED – For the first time, gays/lesbians serve openly in the military.

2012

  • AMERICA’S IMAGE – Favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries by an average of 26 percent in poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
  • AFGHANISTAN – U.S. forces are expected to complete combat mission by the end of 2013.
  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT – Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote upholds the constitutionality of the ACA.