Introduced every year from 1984 to 1993, the protection of a worker’s job while they were taking an unpaid absence due to medical reasons wasn’t put into law until the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was signed by President Bill Clinton (FMLA).

In 2013, the US Department of Labor issued a study that revealed just how the FMLA act has impacted the American workplace.

The study found that almost 50 percent all leave events lasted 10 days or fewer and only around 60 percent of American workers meet the criteria for the law’s protections. Government researchers also saw that approximately 56 percent of workers who took FMLA qualifying leave were women.

The Department of Labor noted that levels of leave are greater among those qualified for the FMLA than for those not qualified, 16 percent to 10 percent. The government agency said this difference may be because of the causal result of the FMLA – but added that some of the difference is possibly due to the factors affecting eligibility, such as company size, job tenure, hours worked. Therefore, the department concluded, some of the difference in rates would remain even without the FMLA act.

The majority of leave taken is for the employee’s own illness, 55 percent. Leave for pregnancy or a new child, and for illness of a close relative came in at 21 percent and 18 percent respectively. Leave for other qualifying reasons came in at only 2 percent.

The Department of Labor also found that most leave is short. About 50 percent all employee leave lasts 10 days or less and 17 percent last greater than 60 days – for both eligible and ineligible workers.

About two-thirds of all workers in the survey said they had heard of the FMLA, with a greater percentage of workers at covered worksites having heard of the FMLA act as opposed to workers at ineligible sites. While most workers know the qualifying stipulations under the FMLA act, they also appear to believe that the FMLA is more expansive than it is in reality.

The FMLA says workers can return to their pre-leave position or to an equivalent position. However, the FMLA act does cover paid leave. However, 48 percent of respondents reported receiving full pay and 17 percent said they had received partial pay, either through paid vacation leave, sick leave or other accrued hours.
Levels of full pay were effects by the amount of leave taken, dropping off dramatically for leaves of greater than 10 days, 60 percent compared to 40 percent. Most respondents, 78 percent, who took leave in 2012 said that they came back to work because there was no longer a necessity for them to stay out. Even if they had been paid away from the job, 40 percent said not being able to afford leave is why they came back.

Five percent of respondents said that they required leave but could not take it in 2012. Levels of unmet but necessary leave were about the same for both eligible and ineligible workers, but double the amount seen in 2000. Almost 50 percent said the wherewithal to afford the leave is the reason they did not take it – even though they needed it.

The researchers found that their results fluctuated based on if each organization was weighted by the number of employees or not. For example, most covered worksites that are large enough to have eligible workers report little difficulty adhering to the FMLA. However, the reported amout of difficulty increases if data is weighted by the number of employees per worksite. Thirty percent of companies in the survey reported that the cost of providing the FMLA is rising, which became 50 percent when weighted by workers.

Less than 10 percent see damaging effects of complying with the FMLA on “employee productivity, attendance, turnover, career advancement, and morale, in addition to the business’s profitability.” However, these adverse reports are more typical when the information are weighted by workers.

Some employers in the survey expressed concern regarding intermittent leave, considered several episodes of leave for the same reason. However, worker reactions indicated that such leave is not typical. Reports of damaging effects on profitability and productiveness due to intermittent leave are also uncommon.

In its conclusion, the Department of Labor said employees’ usage of leave and employers’ management of leave appear to have reach a level of stability. The agency noted that employees make an effort to utilize the protections afforded by the FMLA act. However, there is still a knowledge gap regarding precisely what the FMLA act entails and covers. Also, most business respondents report that complying with the FMLA imposes little or no burden on operations. Although a subset of companies did report issues complying with the law.

Are We Better Off with the FMLA Act?

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Maureen Hoch noted that society and the workplace has changed over the past two decades, with Generation X and Generation Y often valuing family time over financial or professional opportunity.

Hoch also wrote that the passage of the FMLA act as forced employers to change as well, with every workplace now expected to a comprehensive leave of absence program. This in turn has forced a change in culture, where employers have started to take a holistic approach to “work-life” and the retaining of talent. Many companies now have on-site daycare and some organizations even embrace the idea of paid time off for the birth of a new child or bonding with a newly-adopted child.
“Deeper structural change in the culture and expectations is the next step,” Hoch wrote. “Historical context shows us that the meaning of work has changed over time and will continue to do so.”

What Changes are Next for the FMLA Act?

As society and the workplace continue to change, there will undoubtedly be changes to FMLA act itself or how the act is enforced. Qcera has a number of software and web-based solution to help businesses keep on top of these changes. Each of these solutions is back by full service from the company.