NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pitfalls In Implementing Family Leave Law

March 7, 2000

The idea seemed benevolent when it was first broached: In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to go on unpaid leave to take care of chronic disorders or attend to the health needs of family members. The National Partnership for Women & Families estimates 26 million workers have taken leave under the act.

But how the law has been interpreted by the Labor Department and how it is being put into practice in the workplace have revealed serious problems.

  • More than two-thirds of the time when workers are absent for FMLA reasons, employers assign their duties to other employees.
  • This means that the employees who take over their coworkers' responsibilities are often overworked -- leading to resentment and friction between employees.
  • Workers complain that those who take advantage of the FMLA are "the same 10 people all the time."
  • While the law states that leaves may be taken only in the case of "a serious health condition," the Labor Department includes in that definition long-lasting colds, headaches and strep throat.

Also, Labor has ruled that FMLA leave can be taken in increments as small as six minutes.

Sixty percent of leave-takers do so for a health condition of their own. Caring for a newborn, adopted or foster child is the reason 13 percent of leave-takers give.

Now President Clinton wants to expand the plan by having states pay workers for the time they are off the job on FMLA leave. They could also take leave for parent-teacher meetings and doctor visits. The administration would make up to $20 million available to the states for this purpose.

Source: Daniel J. Murphy, "Rift Over Family Leave Law Widens as Workers Pick Up Slack for Others," Investor's Business Daily, March 7, 2000.


Browse more articles on Government Issues