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Ernst: ‘It’s past time we modernize our family and medical leave policies to serve the needs of parents and families in today’s world’

Ernst is proposing a fix to the law to ensure married couples are afforded equal family and medical leave benefits

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a mom and member of the Senate Small Business Committee, is proposing a bipartisan bill to modernize the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to ensure married couples who work for the same employer are not restricted in the amount of leave they can take under the law, an issue in the original law that’s become increasingly evident in the modern workforce.

“As a mom, I understand how important it is for new parents to spend time with their children in their first few weeks together, which is why I’ve helped champion paid parental leave efforts in the Senate,” said Senator Ernst. “It’s past time we modernize our family and medical leave policies to serve the needs of parents and families in today’s world. This bipartisan bill will extend equal benefits to married couples regardless of their employer, and it also provides time to care for a sick family member, including our heroic servicemembers.”

The FAIR Leave Act—or Fair Access for Individuals to Receive Leave Act—modernizes the FMLA by addressing some of the shortcomings of the law to provide more comprehensive and effective leave for American families. Senator Ernst is joined by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Tina Smith (D-MN) in introducing the bipartisan legislation.

“Every Arizona worker deserves the opportunity to spend time with a new child, to care for a loved one, or to provide support to an injured or ill servicemember. Our bipartisan, commonsense bill fixes an error in current law that punishes married couples who work for the same company,” said Senator Sinema.

“Marriage is the foundation of civil society and the federal government should not be in the business of punishing marriage,” Senator Lee said. “That is why I am supporting the FAIR Leave Act which would eliminate the existing marriage penalty in the Family Medical Leave Act.”

“When I was Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, I fought to offer paid family leave to over 34,000 Minnesota state employees. And as Senator, I’ve worked to do the same for federal employees and all Americans.  One step in that effort is to eliminate a penalty for married couples with the same employer,” said Senator Smith. “It’s 2019, and your relationship status shouldn’t dictate the time you have to care for a new kid or a sick family member without missing a paycheck.”


While the FMLA provides unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, it limits the amount of leave that married couples, working for the same employer, may take for spending time at home with their new baby, or caring for a sick loved one or servicemember. The bipartisan FAIR Leave Act will repeal this limitation.

The bill enables eligible spouses working for the same employer to each take up to 12 work weeks (24 total) of unpaid leave in a 12 month period for the following FMLA-qualifying reasons:

  • the birth of a son or daughter;
  • the placement and adoption of a child; or
  • the care of a parent with a serious health condition.

It will also allow eligible spouses to each take 26 weeks to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness.

Read the full bill text HERE.