HR Management & Compliance

FMLA’s 20th anniversary: New survey shows use and impact of law

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) observed the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on February 4 by releasing a survey on its use and impact.

The survey, conducted in 2012, follows previous assessments in 1995 and 2000. Both employees and worksites were surveyed. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Most worksites aren’t covered by the FMLA, but more than half of all employees are eligible. The survey’s executive summary notes that 17% of worksites reported being covered by the Act, and another 30% said they weren’t sure if they were covered. Although many employers are too small to be covered, most employees across the country are covered. According to the survey, 59% of employees meet the requirements to be eligible for the FMLA’s protections. The survey addressed what would happen if the law were changed to cover more employees. “Expanding eligibility to smaller worksites would modestly increase eligibility,” it states. “Currently, eligibility requires that firms have 50 employees within 75 miles of this worksite; lowering the cutoff to 30 employees would increase eligibility from 59 percent to 63 percent, [and] lowering it further to 20 employees would increase it to 67 percent.”
  • Leave is common. The survey summary notes that 13% of all employees took FMLA leave in 2012, a figure that was unchanged from 2000. The survey also says that taking leave is more common among employees who are protected by the Act. Most of the leaves employees took were for their own illness—57%. Leave for pregnancy or a new child accounted for 22%, and leave for the illness of a qualifying relative accounted for 19%. A large number (42%) of all the leaves lasted 10 days or less, and 17% lasted more than 60 days, according to the survey.
  • Most employees receive pay while on leave. Although the FMLA doesn’t require employers to provide paid leave, most employees reported that they received some pay while on leave, usually through paid vacation time, sick leave, or other paid time off.
  • Most leave needs are met. Five percent of employees reported that they needed leave but weren’t able to take it. “Rates of unmet need for leave were similar [for] eligible and ineligible employees,” the summary says, “but more than twice as high as in 2000.”
  • The impact on employers varies. Most employers reported little negative impact due to the FMLA, but results varied, depending on the size of the employer. Most worksites that are large enough to have eligible employees reported little trouble complying with the law; 14% said it is “somewhat difficult,” while 1% said it is “very difficult.” But larger worksites were more likely to have difficulty; 29% said compliance is “somewhat difficult,” and 3% said it is “very difficult.”

Fewer than 10% of all worksites reported seeing negative effects of compliance on employee productivity, absenteeism, turnover, career advancement, morale, and profitability. But of the larger firms, 29% reported negative effects.

The survey also addressed intermittent leave. The summary acknowledges “considerable discussion of and concern expressed by some employers regarding intermittent leave” but says only about 3% of employees reported taking intermittent leave. Employer responses of negative effects on profitability and productivity because of intermittent leave totaled 6% or less, although negative effects were more common among larger employers (as high as 25%).

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