(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden hosted former President Bill Clinton at an event Thursday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, saying the landmark law had made a “gigantic difference” for American families.

“The law was a step toward that dignity my dad used to talk about, dignity for working families,” Biden said at the event at the White House.

“It’s good for business,” he added. “When workers can take leave, when they’re able to do that rather than have to stay in their job, they’re better off and the businesses are better off as well because things get done.”

Biden on Thursday instructed the heads of federal agencies to consider new policies that would extend access to unpaid family and medical leave for federal workers still in the first year of their job. Under current policies, those workers aren’t yet eligible for the leave.

The president has also asked federal agencies to consider allowing federal workers leave in the wake of domestic violence or sexual assault.

“Too many women have been denied just simple basic support,” Biden said. 

The efforts are intended to expand protections under the Clinton-era bill, which provides workers with up to 12 unpaid weeks off after childbirth or to help care for ailing family members.

Clinton thanked Biden for asking him back to the White House and shared stories from people he had met who described to him the impact the law had in their lives. He said that 400 million times in the last 30 years, Americans had taken advantage of the FMLA.

Clinton said passage of the law was long overdue.

“By the time the 1992 election unfolded, there were more and more families where both the mother and the father had to work to make a living or where there was only one parent in the home with the children,” said Clinton. “In a situation like that, both the society and its political leaders look utterly hypocritical if they say, ‘oh, there’s nothing more important than raising children’, but fail to help families do so, Clinton said.

Biden attempted to expand those protections to offer up to 12 paid weeks of vacation and three days of bereavement leave per year as part of a prescription drug and climate spending package Democrats pursued in the previous Congress. But Biden was unable to win the support of Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, so the proposal was jettisoned.

Only around one in four private sector workers currently have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with benefits largely concentrated for best-paid employees.

The event saw Biden and Clinton joined by allies who helped pass the law, including former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. 

In a lighter moment, Clinton took the podium and was briefly unable to find his prepared speech.

“Why don’t I just give your speech and you can give mine,” he joked to Biden.

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.