After 20 Years It’s Time to Ask: Is the FMLA Still Working?

It’s hard to believe that the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) was signed into law 20 years ago. How has the FMLA impacted employers, workers and their families?

The U.S. Department of Labor recently conducted a survey addressing that very question. According to the report, the FMLA has had a positive effect on the lives of workers and their families without imposing an undue burden on employers, and has created very little disruption in the workplace.

Here are some key findings from the survey:

  • 91 percent of employers report that complying with the FMLA has had either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on employee absenteeism, turnover and morale.
  • 85 percent of employers report that complying with the FMLA is very easy, somewhat easy, or has no noticeable effect.
  • Nearly 60 percent of employees meet all criteria for coverage and eligibility under FMLA
  • 13 percent of all employees reported taking leave for a FMLA reason in the past 12 months
  • 24 percent of leave taken for FMLA reasons is intermittent leave
  • Fewer than 2 percent of employees who take intermittent leave are off for a day or less
  • Fewer than 2 percent of covered work sites reported confirmed misuse of FMLA
  • Fewer than 3 percent of covered work sites reported suspicion of FMLA misuse.

More FMLA problems for larger employers

Small to medium sized firms reported very little difficulty in administering FMLA. Larger employers, however, reported more problems: 3 percent said that administration was “very difficult” and 29 percent said administration was “somewhat difficult.”

Half of employers surveyed reported that administration of FMLA is becoming more expensive.

Intermittent leave (two or more episodes of leave for the same reason) has been one of the key FMLA concerns for employers. Employee responses indicate that only about 3 percent took any intermittent leave. Employers have a somewhat different perspective on intermittent leave. Reports of the negative effects of intermittent leave on profitability and productivity were as high as 25 percent.

“The FMLA is working”

According to Mary Beth Maxwell, Acting Deputy Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor:

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The significance of the FMLA is in its recognition that workers aren’t just contributing to the success of a business, but away from their jobs they are contributing to the heath and well-being of their families. Our survey results show that, for two decades, granting job-protected leave has been good for employers and good for millions of workers and their loved ones. The FMLA is working.”

Based on the results of this survey, “it appears that employee use of leave and employers granting and administration of leave has achieved a level of stability.”

FMLA is a complex area riddled with potential pitfalls. But it seems that 20 years later, employers have a pretty good handle on administration.

What do you think? Is FMLA working?

This was originally published at the Compensation Café blog, where you can find a daily dose of caffeinated conversation on everything compensation.

Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at Cornell University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on economic theory and labor economics in the College of Arts and Sciences and in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Throughout her career, Stephanie has completed research on a variety of topics including wage determination, pay gaps and inequality, and performance-based compensation systems. She frequently provides expert commentary in media outlets such as The New York Times, CBC, and NPR, and has published papers in a variety of journals.

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