The Family and Medical Leave Act: Then, Now and Next

Filed in DOL, Workplace Rights by on February 5, 2013 4 Comments

(Editor’s note: This is a cross-post from the Huffington Post Business blog.)

Twenty years ago, the critics of job-protected family and medical leave were loud . . . and wrong: “A disincentive to hire,” quipped one 1992 editorial. “A sham” and “anti-family,” opined others. One congressman called it “bad for business” and “a cynical election-year ploy.” These are the same kinds of reflexive attacks on workplace regulation we often hear today. “It’s job killing. It won’t work. It’s a giveaway to irresponsible workers.”

“America’s families have beaten the gridlock in Washington to pass Family and Medical Leave,” said President Bill Clinton as he signed the historic Family and Medical Leave Act 20 years ago tomorrow. FMLA, now core to the culture of the American workplace and the American working family, provides job-protected leave for the birth, adoption or care of a child; to provide care for injured or ill relatives; or to attend to one’s own medical needs.

In the summer of 1993, none other than the Children’s Television Workshop joined with the Labor Department to produce a series of public service announcements promoting the value of family and medical leave in the workplace. With familiar Big Bird in the background, the message stands the test of time.

Today, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of FMLA, the Department of Labor (which next month will celebrate its own 100th anniversary) is releasing the results of a survey on the act’s use and impact. Plain and simple: FMLA is still good for workers and their families — and yes, it’s good for business.

The report tells us that, over the last 20 years, FMLA has had a positive effect on the lives of millions of American workers and their families, without imposing an undue burden on employers as detractors once warned. In truth, employers report little to no difficulty complying with FMLA and actually credit the law for reduced turnover and increased workplace morale.

As times have changed, FMLA has kept up. In 2010, recognizing the diverse faces of the modern family, the Labor Department issued guidance on the law including coverage of gay parents and relatives that act as parents. And last year, first lady Michelle Obama highlighted efforts to expand FMLA to meet the unique challenges confronting military families and those who care for our wounded warriors.

FMLA is based on the simple idea that workers should not have to choose between the jobs they need and the families they love. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division will continue to make sure that the law is enforced. And as a working father, married to a wonderful working mother, I’m grateful it is.

Seth D. Harris is the acting U.S. secretary of labor. Follow him on Twitter at @ActingSecHarris.

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Comments (4)

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    While I believe many good things have come from the FMLA mandates, you make it sound like it has been all peaches and cream. It has not. You have given employees that like to work the system ammunition to milk their employers. I am in HR and have witnessed many employees trying to use the FMLA to their advantage when they do not meet the qualifications. There needs to be some leeway for employers to verify the validity of an employee’s claim. Also, the same employees need FMLA as soon as they work their 1250 hours. Curious isn’t it? There is abuse in every employment law issued. Please be open with your comments.

  2. The only problem I can see is people ‘scamming’ the system when they’re really not ill, or taking care of someone, just to get a paid day off. I do appreciate this act, however, as there are times in life when it is necessary for leave.

  3. Although I own a small business and deal with the burdens that come with this act, I nonetheless believe it is good for society and in the long-run actually helps business. We all need work/life balance, and in the long run a business needs employees who feel both valued and respected by their employer. Engaged and happy employees are the backbone of a successful business; and this act enforces practices that should be intuitively put in place without a mandate.

  4. riesti says:

    Engaged and happy employees are the backbone of a successful business; and this act enforces practices that should be intuitively put in place without a mandate.

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