Family And Medical Leave Essay, Research Paper
Families and Employers in a Changing Economy
In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA or
the Act) to provide a national policy that supports families in their efforts to strike a work-able balance between the competing demands of the workplace and the home. These demands have intensified over the last 25 years, as the nation has experi-enced dramatic social and economic changes affecting businesses, employees and families alike. American businesses have confronted a changing world economy marked by increasing competition, technological innovation and instability. Many more women have entered the labor force. Many families caregiving needs are now being met by family members who also are holding down
jobs. This, in turn, has fueled the rising need among employees for workplace policies that enable them to meet the often competing demands of job and home.
In almost every family a time comes when some family member has a serious medi-cal problem or a caregiving need that requires time off from work. Without the availability of job-protected family and medical leave, employees often face the difficult choice of returning to work prematurely, of giving up their jobs or of not providing their families the care and support they need.
Prior to the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees had access to family and medical leave in two ways:
Voluntary or collectively bargained employer policies
Policies required by state leave statutes.
A quarter to a third of formal employer policies matched FMLA requirements in the protections they offered. Many voluntary policies did not provide leave for all the reasons offered by FMLA – especially to care for a seriously ill parent, child or spouse, or to care for a new-born, newly-adopted or foster child. Leave was often handled on a case-by-case basis, for a shorter duration, and health insurance and other benefits were not necessarily maintained. In addition, the discretionary nature of many leave policies meant that leavetaking employees often did so at some risk to their job security.
State statutes, enacted in 34 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., expanded unpaid, job-guaranteed leave options for some employees, especially in the area of maternity leave, but very few were as comprehensive as the FMLA. The amount of job-guaranteed leave that a worker could take varied widely in state law – from 16 hours to one year. Eligibility requirements also varied, and many of the
laws applied only to state employees. Most of the laws exempted certain small busi-nesses. Five states and Puerto Rico also have Temporary Disability Insurance laws (TDI) which pre-date FMLA and provide partial wage replacement during maternity-disability leave as well as other temporary disabilities.
Today, many more employers are providing family and medical leave policies through their compliance with the new law, which requires employers with 50 employees or more to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year to eligible employees to care for a newborn, newly-adopted or foster child, a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition, or for the serious health condition of the employee, including maternity-related disability.
Employees are eligible to take leave if they have worked for a covered employer for at least one year, and for 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months, and if there are at least 50 employees working for their employer within a 75-mile radius of their worksite.
The Commission on Leave report provides an initial assessment of family and medical leave policies in general, and of FMLA in particular: are we approaching the workable balance en-visioned by this nation s lawmakers?
How the Commission Went About its Work
The Commission on Leave, which commenced in November 1993, was composed of members who possessed the expertise and practical experience needed to evaluate family and medical leave issues. They included Congressional leaders, representatives of women and families, labor and the business community, including small businesses and ex-officio Cabinet members from Federal agencies with direct interest in family and medical leave issues. Following its formation, the Commis-sion set about to meet a broad and ambitious legislative
mandate by coordinating a variety of research and information gathering efforts that together help to provide comprehensive answers to all the questions posed by Congress.
The FMLA charges the Commission to study the following points: existing and proposed mandatory and voluntary family and medical leave policies of both cov-ered and non-covered employers; their costs, benefits and impact on productivity; the possible differences to employers in costs, benefits and impact on productivity, job creation and business growth based on size; the impact of family and medical leave policies on the availability of benefits provided by covered and non-covered employers; state enforcement of the FMLA with regard to special provisions per-taining to teachers; methods used by employers to reduce administrative costs of policies; the ability of employers
to recover health insurance costs from employees who do not return to work; and the impact on employers and employees of temporary wage replacement policies.
The Commission, placing a high priority on hearing directly from businesses, employees and their families, held three public hearings in different sites across the country. A broad cross-section of people testified and provided important insights on a wide variety of topics related to family and medical leave.
In FY ‘95, the Commission, through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, contracted with two research organizations, Westat, Inc. and the Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, to conduct two major studies – an Employer Survey and an Employee Survey. The Employer Survey, a national, random sample survey, provides the first post-FMLA statistically valid data on private- sector employers of diverse sizes assessing their experience with the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as with family and medical leave policies in gen-eral. The Employee Survey is the first ever national, random sample survey on employee leave-taking. The data, collected in 1995 and based on an 18-month period commencing in January, 1994, provide important national estimates on the need for and occurrence of taking leave from
work for family and medical reasons. In addition, the Commission requested several smaller studies to assist in answer-ing the questions posed by Congress.
Overall Impact of the FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act has had a positive impact on employees over-all. It has succeeded in replacing the piecemeal nature of voluntary employer leave policies and state leave statutes with a more consistent and uniform stan-dard. The FMLA has not been the burden to business that some had feared. For most employers, compliance is easy, the costs are non-existent or small and the effects are minimal. Most periods of leave are short, most employees return to work and reduced turnover seems to be a tangible positive
effect. The FMLA, with its signature features of guaranteed job protection and maintenance of health benefits, begins to emerge, even now, as a significant step in helping a larger cross-section of working Americans meet their medical and family caregiving needs while still maintaining their jobs and their economic security – achieving the workable balance intended by Congress.