NAM: Happy Birthday FMLA--Now Grow Up

It was on this day in 1993 that Congress enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act, a law designed to grant family and temporary medical leave under certain circumstances. The idea behind the law (Public Law 103-3) was that employees would be able to take time off for the birth or adoption of a child, to take care of a family member with a serious illness, or seek treatment themselves when seriously ill. The Department of Labor says that in the 15 years since enactment, that idea has been a successful reality for millions of workers who have benefited from such leave. The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents some 14,000 companies in every industrial sector, says that while FMLA benefits are important, valuable, and "unquestioned," it is time to improve the law to better serve employees, their families, and employers.

NAM marked the occasion of FMLA's 15th anniversary to note in a birthday eve press release that it supports legislative and/or regulatory efforts to revise and improve how FMLA is administered. While the law should be protected, it is not without problems, NAM says. Among the difficulties the group notes are "confusing and conflicting" regulations surrounding the law, resulting in medical certification forms that do not provide clear guidance on the duration and frequency of leave and vague definitions of serious health conditions. FMLA was never intended to turn full-time jobs into part-time jobs, nor to allow employees to take sporadic leave without any notification to employers, nor to unfairly burden colleagues forced to cover the unpredictable absences of their coworkers, but too often in the past 15 years, that has been the law's reality, NAM notes.

Citing a 2007 survey of companies whose employees are eligible for FMLA leave, NAM says respondents reported 65 percent of the requests received for intermittent leave "were made either on the day of the leave, after the leave was taken, or without notice--causing significant administration issues for employers." Sixty-five percent of those surveyed also "indicated a disruption of business or absorbed significant operating costs due to unscheduled intermittent leave," the association said, noting that nearly 30 percent of manufacturers offer paid maternity leave.

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