Family and Medical Leave: Evidence from the 2000 Surveys: Seven Years after the Family and Medical Leave Act, More Employees Are Taking Leave for Family or Medical Reasons, and Fewer Report That They Need Leave, but Are Unable to Take It; Many Employers Offer Leave over and above That Required by the Act, and Most Report No Adverse Effects on Their Business. (Family and Medical Leave)

By Waldfogel, Jane | Monthly Labor Review, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Family and Medical Leave: Evidence from the 2000 Surveys: Seven Years after the Family and Medical Leave Act, More Employees Are Taking Leave for Family or Medical Reasons, and Fewer Report That They Need Leave, but Are Unable to Take It; Many Employers Offer Leave over and above That Required by the Act, and Most Report No Adverse Effects on Their Business. (Family and Medical Leave)


Waldfogel, Jane, Monthly Labor Review


This article highlights the key findings on family and medical leave policies and practices from two new surveys of employees and establishments conducted by Westat for the Department of Labor in the summer and fall of 2000. The new surveys provide a window on the family and medical leave experiences of employees and employers 7 years after the enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and 5 years after the last surveys on family and medical leave were conducted. (1)

Prior to the enactment of the FMLA in 1993, the United States had no national family and medical leave legislation, making the Nation an outlier among other industrialized countries. (2) The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1979 required establishments that already offered temporary-disability programs to cover pregnancy as they did any other disability, but the Act did not mandate that establishments actually offer such programs. Some employees had access to family or medical leave through union contracts, employer policies, or State statutes, but coverage under these provisions was rarely as comprehensive as coverage under the FMLA. Indeed, many employees had no family or medical leave coverage prior to the passage of that legislation.

The FMLA, which was enacted by Congress and signed by the President in February 1993, went into effect in August of that year. The Act requires establishments with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year to eligible employees who need leave for a reason specified under the law (that is, to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or a newly placed foster child, to care for a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition, or to treat one's own serious health condition). In order to be eligible, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours that year.

Previous research on the FMLA

Two surveys on family and medical leave were conducted in 1995 for the bipartisan Commission on Family and Medical Leave: an employee survey, conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, and an establishment survey, conducted by Westat. The results of these two surveys, and the rest of the Commission's findings, were presented in the major report, A Workable Balance: Report to Congress on Family and Medical Leave Policies, released in 1996. (See note 1.)

The 1996 report concluded that the overall impact of the FMLA on employees had been positive. The report also concluded that the implementation of the law had not caused the types of problems for employers that some had anticipated. Among the most important findings in this regard were the following:

* The law led to increased family and medical leave benefits for employees. Two-thirds of covered establishments reported that they changed some aspect of their family or medical leave policies to come into compliance with the law, and covered establishments were much more likely than noncovered establishments to offer family and medical leave.

* The law had little or no impact on covered establishments' operations in other respects. More than 9 in 10 covered establishments said that the FMLA was relatively easy to administer, and most said that the law had no noticeable effect on their business performance.

* The work of those who took leave was typically covered by other employees. Most employees took short leaves (of median length 10 days, with 90.0 percent lasting 12 or fewer weeks), and their work was typically covered by being temporarily reassigned to other employees.

However, the 1996 report also pointed to some problems and limitations. Among the most important were the following:

* Coverage under the law was far from universal. Only 59.5 percent of private-sector employees worked for covered establishments, and only 46.5 percent were both covered and eligible. …

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Family and Medical Leave: Evidence from the 2000 Surveys: Seven Years after the Family and Medical Leave Act, More Employees Are Taking Leave for Family or Medical Reasons, and Fewer Report That They Need Leave, but Are Unable to Take It; Many Employers Offer Leave over and above That Required by the Act, and Most Report No Adverse Effects on Their Business. (Family and Medical Leave)
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