Parental leave: 5 reasons U.S. lags other countries

  • Family leave law excludes half of all workers

    Photo, file: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Many new parents in the U.S. take time off to spend with their newborns under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. That law, enacted in 1993, entitles new mothers 12 weeks of unpaid leave. (The law also benefits other workers by letting people take time to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.)

    Trouble is, far fewer people are eligible for parental leave under the FMLA than is widely assumed. That's largely because the law exempts small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 50 employees. Most part-time workers also are disqualified because the act applies only to people who have worked at least 1,250 hours for the same employer over the last 12 months (or roughly 104 hours per month).

    As a result, only about half of U.S. workers -- and less than 20 percent of new moms -- are covered under the FMLA.

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    Alain Sherter covers business and economic affairs for