Human Capital & Careers

Business Groups Seek FMLA Changes

"One person's reform is another person's gutting," says an attorney who represents employers.
Stephen TaubJune 24, 2005

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are pressing legislators to change the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take time off to deal with medical concerns, according to Bloomberg.

The two business groups assert that the law’s provisions frequently play havoc with schedules, hinder workflow, and mask chronic lateness problems and absenteeism. “Changing FMLA to address these problems is our No. 1 priority right now in terms of labor issues,” Michael Eastman, head of labor policy at the Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg. Business executives struggle “continuously” with the law’s requirements, he added — “what conditions qualify as ‘serious,’ and tracking leave and verifying if it’s legitimate.”

The FMLA guarantees workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for a newborn or a sick member of their immediate family — or to deal with an illness — in increments as small as an hour or less. As an example, explained Bloomberg, a person who has cancer can take off just a few hours for chemotherapy, then return to work so that they don’t use up an entire day of their allotted 12 weeks.

This sometimes causes scheduling difficulties and can cover up deeper problems of employee tardiness or time abuse, according to the wire service. “People are taking shorter periods of leave more frequently, and that’s hard for employers to oversee,” Janemarie Mulvey, president of the Employment Policy Foundation, a pro-business group, told Bloomberg.

The FMLA was the first piece of legislation signed by President Clinton, noted the wire service; it had been vetoed by the first President Bush. Proposals to change the law will set off “a pretty heated debate,” Lawrence Lorber, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP who represents employers, told Bloomberg. “One person’s reform is another person’s gutting.”

The wire service noted that in 2002, after the Supreme Court struck down a provision that penalized employers for failing to notify workers of their FMLA rights, the Department of Labor put the act on its agenda for regulatory review. However, Victoria Lipnic, assistant labor secretary for employment standards, told Bloomberg last month there are no plans for a major overhaul of the law.