How We Use the FMLA

Being unable to afford it is the most common reason for not taking needed leave.

Most of us never use the Family and Medical Leave Act, in fact, especially when we're worried about our jobs or our finances. But our working population is older and we're less healthy than our parents, by and large. Those trends may be changing how we utilize FMLA as its second decade comes to an end.

The Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division will survey 3,000 people on how the employees and managers in their workplaces utilize the act. WHD said it needs to collect new information on the use and need of FMLA leave to update the department's understanding of leave-taking behavior and close current data gaps remaining from two previous surveys.

The plan is to finish collecting survey data by Jan. 14, 2012.

The first survey of workers and employers was conducted in 1995, two years after Congress passed the act, by the bipartisan Commission on Family and Medical Leave and produced "A Workable Balance: Report to Congress on Family and Medical Leave Policies" (www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/1995Report/family.htm). This report says two-thirds of covered work sites had changed their policies in response to the act, with 69.3 percent providing leave for fathers to care for seriously ill or newborn children. Only 32.3 percent of not covered work sites offered parental leave, and only 41.7 percent offered leave to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parent.

Five years later came the second survey, done by Westat at DOL's request. "Balancing the Needs of Families and Employers: Family and Medical Leave Surveys, 2000 Update" (www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/toc.htm) found no change in the percentage of employees who took FMLA leave -- 16.5 percent versus 16.0 percent in 1995 -- but why they took leave had shifted. "Employees taking leave in 2000 were less likely to leave for their own health than were employees in 1995, and more likely to take leave for other reasons such as maternity-disability, care for a newborn or newly placed foster or adoptive child, care for a spouse, or care for a parent," the report states, adding that the reasons for this shift were unclear.

The percentage of employees who said they needed leave but could not take it declined from 3.1 percent in 1995 to 2.4 percent in 2000. In both surveys, being unable to afford it was the most common reason (cited by 77.6 percent) for not taking needed leave.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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