The stories of our lives often unfold in ways that we were never prepared for. Back in the '80s, my mother flew across the country from a small town south of Boston to take care of her brother in San Francisco after a sudden heart attack. She was lucky enough to be able to take time off from work and not worry about losing her job.
Twenty years later, I too needed to take time off to care for family—specifically, my parents, while they both recovered from different surgeries during the same couple of weeks. When I went to Human Resources to arrange for use of my vacation time, I was told that I needn't do so: This type of leave was covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which President Clinton signed into law in 1993, and which provides “certain employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year” in order to care for their sick parents, children, or spouses.
I was very grateful for this law; it was there when I needed it. But, later, I was surprised to learn that when it came to another part of my life, the law did nothing for me: I have a brother who has an intellectual disability and other health issues as well. While I haven’t needed any extended leave to take care of him, I have had to head out of work early to take care of him when different medical issues have come up. For millions of Americans who care for their sick and disabled brothers and sisters, they'll find that the time they need to take off is not guaranteed to them by law: The FMLA does not cover siblings.