Employers say some reasonably healthy workers are using the federal Family and Medical Leave Act regulations to fine-tune their schedules.
U.S. Department of Labor officials have included those employer and trade group complaints in a 161-page report summarizing 15,000 comments the department received after it put out a call in December 2006 for information about how the FMLA regulations are working.
“There is broad consensus that family and medical leave is good for workers and their families, is in the public interest, and is good workplace policy,” Victoria Lipnic, a department assistant secretary, writes in a foreword to the report.
Lipnic, who wrote the report together with Paul DeCamp, administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division, says she and DeCamp hope it will help interested parties and policymakers hold better-informed discussions about ways to resolve the concerns they do have about FMLA regulations.
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The FMLA, enacted in 1993, requires many employers with 50 or more employees to offer a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to permanent, full-time employees who have been at their jobs for more than a year and who give birth, are involved with childbirth as fathers, adopt children, suffer serious health conditions, or need to care for spouses, parents, sons or daughters with serious health conditions.
Labor Department officials estimated in 2006 that the number of employees who took FMLA leave in 2005 might have ranged from 2.4 million to 13 million.
Unum, Chattanooga, Tenn., estimates in its comment letter that 17% of the eligible employees in FMLA programs it administers for 95 employers took FMLA leave in 2006.
But a survey of 241 corporate benefit managers by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Brookfield, Wis., found that 48% of participating managers said fewer than 6% of their companies’ workers use FMLA leave each year, Lipnic and DeCamp write.
Lipnic and DeCamp point out that employees can take “intermittent” FMLA leave in the smallest increments that an employer’s payroll system can handle.
One employee who is caring for a wife with multiple sclerosis wrote to talk about the importance both of FMLA leave and of intermittent leave.
“Since MS is an incurable disease without a schedule or any way of knowing when an episode is going to [occur], I cannot always foresee when I am needed at home,” the employee writes in his comment.
Some employers and benefits administrators also emphasize the value of the FMLA program and intermittent leave.