Term Paper: Family Medical Leave Act

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[. . .] This results in unscheduled overtimes and an increased work burden for other employees (Zall).

The greatest problem with the FMLA, however, lies in the difficulty of determining what counts as a "serious health condition." Conflicting regulations from the Labor Department and federal court decisions make it problematic to determine which health conditions qualify for FMLA-leave. Depending on the regulations applied, conditions like colds, the flu, ulcers and migraines may or may not qualify for FMLA leave (Zall).

Aside from traditional businesses, large employers such as universities had problems with getting work done to cover for an employee's absence. Finding immediate competent replacements for professors on leave proved to be difficult. Professors who were already burdened with large class sizes could not simply take on the teaching duties of a colleague on leave. On the administrative side, budget constraints kept many universities from hiring temporary help, forcing department managers to take on several additional responsibilities (Campion and Dill).

In summary, arguments against the FMLA and for introducing FMLA reforms center around the law's potential to create business hardship. Even if the leave is unpaid, companies and businesses incur expenses when funding an absent employee's insurance and training their replacements. Some employers, such as universities, find it difficult to get competent replacements for employees on leave. Many employers find themselves unable to address rising absenteeism problems because of potential lawsuits. All these factors contribute towards a growing dissatisfaction and plunging morale among other employees, who are often forced to take extra work and responsibilities.

Employee Concerns

Despite these gloomy business predictions of absenteeism and business hardships, statistics show that 45% of the American workforce is not even covered under the FMLA. In addition, a Department of Labor survey shows that 78% of all eligible employees do not avail of the leave because they need their paycheck. An estimated one in 10 people who need to take unpaid leave are forced to go on welfare to make ends meet (cited in DeBaise).

Julie Shields, a lawyer who specializes in FMLA cases, says that the law "is almost worthless for most American workers because it is unpaid and therefore rarely utilized" (cited in Hansen). Because the leave is unpaid, it is only often invoked by higher income workers who have other resources.

In addition to the financial constraints, many workers contemplating FMLA leaves also face strong deterrents from their colleagues. A father contemplating FMLA leave in preparation for the birth of his second daughter ran into strong resentment among his peers and resistance from his managers. One colleague sniped that she should be allowed to stay home with her dogs. A senior boss warned that taking a month off would have deleterious effects on the father's career (Hansen).

1996 report on the impact of the FMLA showed that contrary to business claims of hardship, more than nine out of 10 employers said the law was "relatively easy" to administer and had no noticeable effect on their job performance. Most workers took short leaves, with an average of 10 days (cited in Waldfogel).

These results held up in a follow-up survey conducted in 2000. Covered establishments said that the FMLA had no noticeable effect on business productivity, profitability and growth. Majority of the businesses also found that intermittent leave - which was feared to be particularly disruptive - had no significant impact on their productivity (Waldfogel).

The 2000 survey also highlighted a trend in the reasons for taking leaves. Whereas maternity or disability were the most cited reasons for FMLA leaves in 1995, most employees who took FMLA leaves in 2000 did so to care for a sick spouse or parent (Waldfogel). This shift may reflect a growing acceptance and awareness of the FMLA provisions, encouraging more people to care for their loved ones themselves rather than hiring professional caregivers.

The availability of FMLA leaves has also had noticeable effects on parenting roles. Whereas maternity leave was only available to mothers of newborns, the FMLA allowed both mothers and fathers more time to bond with their growing children. The percentages showing FMLA leaves to care for a newborn or a newly-adopted or foster child were roughly equal between the sexes, with 35.8% for women and 34.1% for men (Waldfogel).

In general, majority of employees who availed of FMLA-related leaves reported being satisfied with the amount of time and the quality of their leave. Many of the leave takers said that the protected leave had positive effects on their ability to take care of sick loved ones, on their own health and on their emotional well being. For those who took health-related leaves, majority responded that the time off made it easier to comply with doctors' orders, leading to a faster recovery period (Waldfogel).

In conclusion, the more impartial studies show that the FMLA has not resulted in greater hardships to companies and businesses or in increased worker absenteeism. In fact, many employees reported faster recovery periods from illness due to this law. This would potentially benefit employers who could not readily find employees with similar qualifications, such as universities and college professors.

However, for almost half of all covered employees in the American workforce, the FMLA remains useless. Many employees are barred from taking leaves because of financial constraints or repercussions from colleagues and superiors.

Problem Areas

Two major problems areas are apparent from this survey of employer and employee concerns regarding FMLA leaves.

First, though the FMLA is an admirable step forward in federal work policy, this law does not cover all employers or work sites. It excludes about one-third of the American workforce. Furthermore, almost half of all employees are not eligible for protection, because they have not worked at their current jobs for the requisite time period. These eligibility restrictions tend to exclude vulnerable groups who may need this protection the most - low wage workers, part timers, immigrant workers and people who are trying to leave welfare.

Second, the FMLA only provides unpaid leave. The law is therefore ineffective for the millions of people who cannot afford to forego a regular paycheck. Many fathers, for example, who would like to be with their newborn children are forced to remain at work. Nearly one in 10 FMLA leave takers will have to avail of welfare assistance. Among households with annual family incomes below $20,000, the number of FMLA leave takers forced to take welfare is doubled.

FMLA Reforms

These FMLA-spawned difficulties have resulted in movements to reform the current FMLA restrictions. One side seeks to strengthen current vague definitions regarding serious health conditions and the supposed lower productivity. On the other hand, early advocates like the AFL-CIO and the National Partnership for Women and Families are pushing for the next step - paid leave.

This section of the paper explores the recommendations for reform, both on the part of the employers and employee advocates.

Employer Reforms

In Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, landmark case for FMLA reform, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Department of Labor regulation that required employers to notify their workers when their absences would be counted as FMLA leaves.

The case concerned Tracy Ragsdale, a Wolverine World Wide Inc. employee who was diagnosed with cancer. Ragsdale was granted seven months worth of incremental leave as she got treatment. After the leave period, her employment was terminated due to her continuing inability to work. When Ragsdale petitioned for FMLA leave, she was informed that her previous seven-month incremental leave already fulfilled her FMLA allotment (Bartl and MacDougall).

Ragsdale filed suit in an Arkansas court, citing the Department of Labor regulation stipulating that if an employee avails of medical leave "and the employer does not designate the leave as FMLA leave, the leave takes does not count against an employee's FMLA entitlement" (cited in Bartl and MacDougall).

When the lower court ruled in favor of Wolverine World Wide, Ragsdale filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The case reached all the way to the Supreme Court, where a five-member majority ruled that the FMLA regulation exceeded the Labor Department's authority to implement the statute. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute already specifically requires employers to post FMLA information notices, which is sufficient to inform employees of their rights. The Ragsdale challenge was invalid because "it relieves employees of the burden of proving any real impairment of their rights and resulting prejudice" (Bartl and MacDougall).

In defending the Court's decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted that imposing penalties on companies like Wolverine could cause other employers to discontinue other leave programs that already give employees more generous benefits than mandated under FMLA. This places the Department of Labor in violation of its own FMLA statute, which stipulates that nothing should be done to keep employers from offering their employees better leave benefits (Bartl and MacDougall).

Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide presents the most successful challenge to the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Family Medical Leave Act.  (2003, March 11).  Retrieved March 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/family-medical-leave-act/9336786

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/family-medical-leave-act/9336786.