Unequal access to FMLA leave persists

Maura Baldiga,
Published: 01.16.2020 Updated: 04.19.2023

Family and medical leave (FML) plays a vital role in helping workers balance their personal and family health needs. FML allows employees to take time off of work to address their own or a family member's serious health condition or to bond after the birth or adoption of a child. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is federal legislation guaranteeing job-protected unpaid leave to certain eligible workers to care for themselves or an immediate family member in times of illness, birth or adoption. However, access to the FMLA is limited by both eligibility and affordability, both of which are unequal across different racial/ethnic groups.


To be eligible for the FMLA, employees must work for covered employers, which include public sector agencies, public and private schools and private employers with a minimum of 50 employees. Employees also must meet requirements related to hours and job tenure with their current employer.

As a result, many working adults are excluded from FMLA protections, particularly groups such as Hispanic workers. diversitydatakids.org estimates that only 46% of working adults are eligible for FMLA leave, leaving more than half of working adults ineligible. Hispanics have an even lower eligibility rate: 41%. Working parents have similar eligibility rates as working adults. Half of parents and more than half of Hispanic parents are not eligible for FMLA leave.

Eligibility and affordability

Beyond eligibility, the unpaid nature of the FMLA limits who is able to take leave. As covered employees weigh whether to take time off, they have to consider the economic costs of leave for their family. Affordability constraints are not evenly distributed by race/ethnicity. Hispanic, black and American Indian/Alaska Native working adults and parents are less likely to be both eligible for and able to afford FMLA unpaid leave. Less than one-third of Hispanic working adults and working parents are both eligible for FMLA leave and could afford to take leave.

State estimates

Use the interactive chart below to explore differences in FMLA eligibility and affordability for working adults and parents at the national level or for a specific state.

Learn more about the FMLA
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Pamela Joshi
Policy Research Director
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Rebecca Huber
Research Associate