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Large employers: Unplanned intermittent leave hurts

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A majority of the employers affected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) say dealing with any kind of unscheduled FMLA leave is difficult.

Dealing with “intermittent” FMLA leave can also be difficult, many employers say.

Analysts at Abt Associates, a consulting firm, are reporting those figures in a collection of results from a recent survey of 1,812 U.S. worksites and a companion survey of 2,852 employees.

The U.S. Labor Department commissioned the surveys to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the FMLA. 

The FMLA applies to worksites with 50 employees within 75 miles of one location. The Abt analysts believe that 808 of the participating worksites were “50/75″ worksites.

About 13 percent of the workers surveyed had taken a leave for a “qualifying FMLA reason” in the previous 12 months, and 16% of the employees eligible for FMLA leave had taken an FMLA leave, the analysts said.

Intermittent leave

Federal regulators define “intermittent leave” as a case of an employee taking two or more periods of leave for the same reason.

About 23 percent of the employees who had taken FMLA leave in the past year said they had taken intermittent leaves.

The average number of episodes of absence per case of FMLA intermittent leave was 4.8 episodes.

When the Abt researchers looked at responses from all 50/75 worksites, they found that the typical worksite found a planned, short-term leave relatively easy to handle. Only 25 percent of all employers said handling a planned short-term leave would be very or somewhat difficult. About 60 percent said unplanned intermittent leave, or unplanned leave of any duration, would be very or somewhat difficult.

About 36 percent of the managers said dealing with planned intermittent leave would be challenging.

Larger employers had more trouble dealing with intermittent leave.

When the Abt analysts weighted responses to reflect the number of workers at each 50/75 worksite, they found that worksites representing 74 percent of all of the participating employers’ employees said handling any kind of unplanned ordinary or intermittent leave would be somewhat or very difficult.

Managers representing 52 percent of the employees in the total sample said dealing with even planned intermittent leave would be challenging.

Labor Department reaction

Officials at the department’s Wage and Hour Division said they believe the  overall survey results show that the FMLA is working well. 

“The study shows that employers generally find it easy to comply with the law, and misuse of the FMLA by workers is rare,” department officials said in a statement. 

Only 5.5 percent of the covered firms told Abt that the FMLA was hurting profits; another 5.1 percent said they thought the act was helping profitability.

But managers of worksites with more employees had more negative views, and managers of worksites with 29 percent of the employees were very or somewhat negative about the effects of FMLA compliance, the Abt analysts said.

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