Murray Bill to Provide Flight Crews with Family Leave Signed Into Law

Dec 22 2009

Bi-partisan legislation will allow pilots and flight attendants to take time to meet the needs of their health and families despite airline industries unique time keeping methods

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate HELP Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, announced that legislation she introduced to make the nation’s flight attendants and pilots eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave time each year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has been signed into law by President Obama. Senator Murray’s bill, S. 1422,The Airline Flight Crew Technical Correction Act, clarifies the FMLA to accommodate flight attendants and pilots who, because of their industries unique calculation of work hours spent on overnights, layovers and waiting to be called to duty, currently do not qualify for leave time.

“This is a big victory for our nation’s hard working flight crews,” said Senator Murray. “Pilots and flight attendants deserve the same ability to balance work and family guaranteed to millions of Americans, and now they’ve got it. Flight crews spend long days, nights and sometimes weeks apart from their families and homes, and they deserve time off to care for themselves and their families. Today we have fixed an unintended and unfair exclusion to our country’s medical leave laws.”

Senator Murray’s bill passed the House of Representatives on December 2nd by voice vote and passed the Senate on November 10th by unanimous consent.

The FMLA, which Murray helped pass in 1993 as one of her first acts as a U.S. Senator provides workers who have worked at least 1,250 hours or 60 percent of a full-time work schedule with unpaid leave due to a serious health condition or the need to care for a sick family member or a new child. Under FMLA, eligible workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period if they or an immediate family member becomes ill, or awaits the birth or adoption of a child. The employee is also assured a job with comparable pay and benefits when they return.

To qualify for FMLA coverage, an employee must work 60 percent of a full time schedule or 1,250 hours per year. Courts calculate the requisite number of hours using the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which covers most workers. However, the hours worked by airline flight crews are calculated differently.

Unlike most workers, flight crewmembers are not credited for each hour they spend on the job. Instead, they are only credited for actual time “in flight,” although they can spend several days, a week, or more away from home. This means that time between flights, such as overnights and layovers does not count toward FMLA coverage and has resulted in flight crews being excluded from receiving unpaid leave. The legislation that was signed into law clarifies the FMLA to reflect the original intent of Congress to include these workers under the FMLA protections. It would make it possible for flight attendants and pilots to qualify for leave when they have fulfilled 60 percent of a full-time work schedule at their airline.

See more details of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act.

Senator Murray was an original cosponsor of the FMLA in 1993 and played an instrumental role in passing that legislation which has helped more than 60 million men and women access leave time.