Absence Abuse and Medical Leave

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 8:00pm


The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted in 1993 to ensure job protection for up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for families after the birth or adoption of a child and to care for the employee's, or a family member's, "serious health condition." Unfortunately, after 12 years of experience, it is now clear that the medical leave provisions of the FMLA have led to widespread employer confusion and employee abuse, as documented in at least 7 Congressional hearings. The Labor Department's regulations and sometime conflicting interpretations of the law have resulted in significant administrative challenges, costs, and abuse by a small, but growing, portion of the workforce. Abuse of the FMLA has, in turn, caused significant morale problems in the workplace, especially among employees that are called to pick up the work of the absent employees.

U.S. Chamber Position

The Chamber has long advocated for reforms that would give employers greater ability to manage absenteeism attributable to abuse of the FMLA. Examples of reforms supported by the Chamber include restoring the original definition of "serious health condition" to clarify that the FMLA does not cover minor ailments such as the common cold; giving employers more tools to ensure that leave taken for a serious health condition is being used consistent with the medical condition; reducing the burden on employers to track intermittent leave in increments as small as six minutes; and permitting employers to use attendance award programs that accurately reflect an employee's actual attendance at work. The Chamber met with the Labor Department in January, 2003, along with several of its member companies in "stakeholder meetings" that the Department conducted to help it assess whether to propose revisions to existing regulations. We are hopeful that the Labor Department will propose revisions that address these concerns in the near future.

The need for reform has been well stated in numerous Congressional hearings. The following document includes excerpts from those hearings:

More detailed examples were provided in Congressional testimony from Hallmark Cards and Southwest Airlines:


Legislative Amendments to the FMLA

In spite of the persistent problems that employers have administering medical leave today, numerous proposals have been introduced in Congress to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act. Examples of expansion proposals include expanding the Act to cover the smallest employers (it currently exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees) and expanding the permissible uses for leave (such as to attend parent-teacher conferences). We do not believe Congress should consider expanding the Act until the problems with the existing law and regulation are corrected.

Should the Labor Department be unwilling to proposed revisions to its FMLA regulations, the Chamber would support legislation to bring about needed reforms. The Chamber has supported such legislation in the past.

Letter to Senator Baucus Expressing Concern Over Corporate-Owned Life Insurance — Oct 10, 2003

Commentary: Freedom and Flexibility in the Workplace — Apr 29, 2003

Letter to Rep. Judy Biggert on the Family and Medical Leave Clarification Act (HR 35) — Jan 21, 2003