Family Medical Leave Act FMLA  Research Paper

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One reason for the lack of impact, according to the study, is that few employees can afford to take advantage of the law's unpaid leave provisions ("Family Leave Act has little impact," 1994, p. 4)

Not only do employers have to now contend with making sure they are following all of the regulations and rules under the FMLA, they too must deal with the increased number of court cases evident due to the guidelines not being met set in place by the FMLA. The concern for employers is that court rulings have liberally applied the definition of "serious health condition" to encompass many common ailments that typically are not considered serious. Under the Department of Labor regulations, "serious health condition" includes conditions that necessitate the employee taking three or more days off and having two or more doctor visits. Once this threshold is reached, the employee may qualify for up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave. FMLA complexities are driving more and more employers to turn to outside vendors to manage their FMLA leave (Reinberg, 2004, p. 8). Their reasons include:

1. Avoid potential litigation and

2. Fines.

3. Provide a layer of privacy related

4. To personal health information.

5. Reduce administrative burden

6. And additional training needs.

7. Provide tracking to ensure consistency,

8. integration with other

9. lost-time benefits, and reduce

10. Lost productivity due to over-certification.

11. Provide a compliance process,

12. including appropriate documentation

13. And state-leave requirements

Since the passage of the FMLA, observers have raised concerns that many or most workers are reluctant to take time off under the act. It was explained that employees often feel that taking extended periods of leave will incite disapproval from their employers. Others may fear that they will miss raises and promotions during their absence from work. Workers fear employers will view them as lazy and unmotivated if they take leave. Based on interviews with workers mostly new mothers who had taken leave under the FMLA, researchers concluded that many employers pressure leave-takers to return to work as quickly as possible. Once leave-takers do return to work, they often feel resentment from their peers and believe they must compensate for time away by working longer hours. Most workers and men in particular also worry about how leave will affect their job mobility i.e. promotions and raises ("Family Leave," 2005, p. 1).

Waldfogel (2001, p. 17) reports that findings in the 1996 report concluded that the overall impact of the FMLA on employees had been positive. The report also concluded that the implementation of the law had not caused the types of problems for employers that some had anticipated. Among the most important findings in this regard were the following:

* The law led to increased family and medical leave benefits for employees. Two-thirds of covered establishments reported that they changed some aspect of their family or medical leave policies to come into compliance with the law, and covered establishments were much more likely than non-covered establishments to offer family and medical leave.

* The law had little or no impact on covered establishments' operations in other respects. More than 9 in 10 covered establishments said that the FMLA was relatively easy to administer, and most said that the law had no noticeable effect on their business performance.

* The work of those who took leave was typically covered by other employees. Most employees took short leaves (of median length 10 days, with 90.0% lasting 12 or fewer weeks), and their work was typically covered by being temporarily reassigned to other employees.

The 1996 report also pointed to some problems and limitations. Among the most important were the following (Waldfogel 2001, p. 17):

* Coverage under the law was far from universal. Only 59.5% of private-sector employees worked for covered establishments, and only 46.5% were both covered and eligible.

* Awareness of the law was limited A large share of employees at covered establishments (41.9%) had not heard of the law.

* Although most employees were able to take, leave when they needed to, a small share was not. About 3% of employees said that they had needed leave for family or medical reasons sometime during the previous 18 months, but were not able to take it.

* The lack of paid leave was a problem for many employees. Although most employees were satisfied with the leave they were able to take, many who needed leave but did not take it said that the reason they did not was that they could not afford it.

In addition to the work conducted for the Commission on Family and Medical Leave, there have also been several independent studies of the FMLA. These investigations have found that family leave coverage increased because of the Act and that the use of family leave increased for some groups, such as mothers of newborns. The impact of the FMLA on the use of leave seems to be smaller than its impact on coverage, which may reflect the existence of financial or other barriers to taking leave under the provisions of the Act. Such barriers may be particularly important for men, who had the greatest increase in parental leave coverage, but who have shown little increase in usage to date (Waldfogel 2001, p. 20).

The results of a study conducted pose a serious threat to the "gender neutrality" goal inherent in the FMLA. In addition to not adequately meeting the needs of caregivers of children with chronic or life-threatening medical conditions, a major hurdle for these caregivers is in meeting the criteria for eligibility. Namely, single women with lower incomes constituted the majority of ineligible families. Those individuals who used FMLA and had incomes of more than $35,000 were more satisfied with the act than those individuals who used FMLA and had incomes less than $35,000. This difference in satisfaction can be attributed to an inherent bias in the FMLA that is based on socioeconomic status (SES).

It was stated, "The greatest barrier to taking leave is the fact that it is usually unpaid." It is very difficult for employees who are eligible for leave to take it because they cannot afford to do so. In this study conducted, there was more often the case with female, single-parent households. There exists an inherent bias in favor of those who can afford to go on leave without pay, for the twelve weeks stipulated under the act. Five of the seven individuals who had experience with the FMLA indicated dissatisfaction with the lack of compensation. Employers can offer employees the option of taking accrued sick leave time, vacation time, or disability pay during the time that they are on leave. There needs to be an addition to the policy, however, mandating some form of compensation or wages for those not qualifying for the above options. One way this could be accomplished is to pay employees who take leave a portion of their full wages, and deduct this amount from their wages upon their return to work. This could be a win-win solution (Roog, Knight, Koob, & Kraus, 2004, pp. 39-40).

An important issue in the study of family economics and labor supply concerns the effect of a family illness on an individual's market labor supply. The FMLA heightens the urgency of this question. Temporary absences from the workplace are thought to place a sort of burden - loss of production -- upon employers. And so when there exists any law that mandates that employers allow workers to miss time to tend to family matters, it becomes interesting to explore the profile of workers who do miss work due to family illness and, perhaps, how missed work may translate to an added cost of production. A family illness affects absenteeism behavior only after first affecting an individual's labor supply. All individuals face opportunity costs associated with working in the labor market, utility lost from time spent at home because lost utility is not directly measurable, these can be considered psychic costs of market work. But not all individuals carry the same psychic costs. Those with families will have greater psychic costs of working because indeed they have more utility to forego by working (Allen, 1996, p. 1177).

Through its induction, FMLA was proposed to bring about economic disaster, which in some observers view turned out to be totally unfounded: With lower turnover and a boost to morale, 90% of employers told the Department of Labor that the FMLA had a neutral or positive effect on profits. The benefits to children and families have been just as marked. When parents can be there for their sick children, they recover faster, avoid more serious illness, and stay healthier. Family leave makes it more likely that children will be immunized, encourages mothers to breastfeed longer, and means more time for parent-child interaction. Today, the idea of…

Sources Used in Document:


Allen, D.W. (1996). Family illness and temporary work absence. Applied Economics, 28, 1177-1180.

BBP, (2004). The Practical Guide to Employment Law. United States: Aspen Publishers.

Charlet, & Kimberly, A. (1994, Feb 1). Automation can reduce Family and Medical Leave Act headaches. Credit world, 82(3), 10.

Dobb, C. (2008, February 5). Strengthen Family and Medical Leave Act by allowing Americans paid time off work. Hill, 24.

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