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FMLA 20th anniversary survey shows positive effect for many workers

This Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the federal law that mandates that most companies provide their employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year in order to deal with personal or family medical issues or to care for a new baby. On the occasion of this anniversary the U.S. Department of Labor released the results of a survey of both employers and employees about how the law is working.

The survey, which sampled more than 2,800 workers and companies in the U.S., showed that 16 percent of covered workers had taken FMLA leave in the past year. 40 percent took fewer than 10 days’ leave, and 70 percent were back at work within 40 days.

Last year, 57 percent of those using the FMLA did so because of their own illness, while 19 percent did so to care for a sick child, spouse or parent. 22 percent took it because they’d just had or adopted a child.

The overwhelming majority — 91 percent — of employers surveyed said that FMLA compliance either had no noticeable effect on their business operations or actually had a positive effect, despite concerns about the cost of administration, reporting, abuse prevention, and responding to FMLA-related lawsuits.

“The Family and Medical Leave Act codified a simple and fundamental principle: Workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care,” said the acting secretary of labor.

Nevertheless, only about half of U.S. workers are eligible for FMLA leave. Although the law does cover both public and private sector jobs, it only applies to employees — not contractors, interns or volunteers — who have worked at their current jobs for a year or more and whose companies are above a certain size. Also, some classes of workers have been excluded from coverage either purposefully or inadvertently.

The Labor Department did use the occasion of the anniversary to bring some of those excluded workers into the fold. New rules have just been approved that will make veterans and their families eligible, along with pilots and flight crews, whose work rules had previously made their eligibility unclear. Finally, members of the National Guard or Reserve will now be allowed to use FMLA leave in order to attend unexpected farewells or homecomings for their units.

“The law has been a huge success, but it’s time – past time – to take the next step,” said the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, the organization that helped draft the existing FMLA.


  • Employee Benefit News, “20th anniversary of FMLA offers mixed reviews,” Kelley M. Butler, Feb. 5, 2013
  • Employee Benefit News, “DOL marks FMLA anniversary implementing some changes, rejecting others,” Tristan Lejeune, Feb. 6, 2013

Our law firm represents employees who face retaliation for taking FMLA leave. For more information, please see our website.

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