Family and Medical Leave Act: Make It Better

By September 11, 2007Miscellaneous

NAM President John Engler has an op-ed in today’s Forbes online — The Death of Common Sense — that looks at the abuses that harm the Family and Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) generally positive recognition of family priorities and emergencies. He draws on the input that manufacturers and other employers gave to the Department of Labor when it collected comments on the FMLA, a project that ended — so far — with a report published in July. (Read the report here.)

While the FMLA is accepted and appreciatied by employers and employees alike, it is subject to abuse that can make it difficult for businesses to run their operations. The most serious problems concern “intermittent leave,” which some people claim whenever they want a day off.

The Family and Medical Leave Act has become the single largest source of uncontrolled absences and, thus, the single largest source of all the costs those absences create: missed deadlines, late shipments, lost business, temporary help and overworked staff.

The most serious problems arise in the area of “intermittent leave,” under which employees obtain a certification that they suffer an ongoing medical condition. This provision’s intent was to accommodate employees with chronic ailments that might occasionally flare up, requiring minimal time off. But intermittent leave invites abuse. Once gaining a medical certification, a worker can leave essentially whenever he or she wants, with little, if any, notice to the boss.

In a recent survey of National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) membership, 65% of the requests received for intermittent leave were made either on the day of the leave, after the leave was taken or without any notice. You can imagine how disruptive this unexpected departure is to the workplace and the administrative nightmares it poses for employers.

That’s right. And who gets stuck doing that missing person’s work?

The Department of Labor sought the comments to permit the drafting of a new rule (possibly) that would preserve the underlying family-friendly nature of the law while responding to the demands of the marketplace. NAM members weighed in — thank you! — and now is the time for Labor to move forward with a proposed rule. Yes, there will be screaming from the usual screaming suspects, but allowing widespread abuses of things like intermittent leave helps neither the employer nor the employee. And it puts a heavy burden on the economy.

P.S. The NAM has an FMLA resource page on the web here. It includes the NAM’s comments to the Department during the information-gathering process.

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