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Family and Medical Leave Act - Larger Employers Are Having Problems

From the August, 1996 issue of
HR Fact Finder

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is causing compliance problems, and they're worse than the government will admit, especially among employers of more than 250 people, according to a survey conducted by Business and Legal Reports, Inc. BLR circulated a questionnaire to several thousand subscribers of its popular looseleaf service, What to Do About Personnel Problems, eliciting responses from 900 human resources managers.

Among the findings:

Absenteeism enforcement at risk.

Enforcing absenteeism rules was the item most frequently cited as causing serious problems. It was the leading cause of serious problems for the group as a whole (checked off by 16 percent of the sample), as well as for both smaller employers (11 percent) and larger employers (25 percent).

Big firms suffer most.

Larger employers are bearing the brunt of the compliance burden. Asked about 20 areas of family leave compliance that could be seen as causing problems, organizations with more than 250 employees reported more serious problems than smaller employers in every single area.

Other serious problems.

Keeping track of leave and verification of reasons for absence were deemed serious problems by 13 percent of the employers in the sample; dealing with physicians and other care providers and coordinating family leave policies with workers' compensation rules was cited as a serious problem by 12 percent.

Short leaves cause grief.

Leaves of two days or less were considered a serious problem by 13 percent of respondents, as compared with only six percent experiencing serious problems with leaves of over a week. Maternity leaves and leaves for child care were least likely to be causing serious problems.

Who's taking leave?

Only a small number of employees seem to be behind the problems employers are experiencing. About seven out of every 100 employees actually took FMLA leave during 1995. Among employers of more than 250 people, only five percent of the workforce actually used FMLA leave last year.

Cost hikes noted

The data indicate that nearly half the employers in the sample are incurring additional administrative costs as a result of FMLA. Only a few of the 900 respondents reported hiring additional personnel to attend to FMLA, but four percent said they were planning to do so.

Government study questioned

"Overall, the findings present a less rosy compliance picture than has been painted by the government," said Stephen Fournier, BLR's managing editor, referring to a study commissioned by the Labor Department that reported generally negligible effects on business.

"The problems noted by this population could hardly be characterized as negligible," Fournier added. "Several respondents took the trouble to comment at length, and their frustration was clearly evident. Some felt resentment at the way the government took over family leave, forcing organizations, in some cases, to scrap their own, more generous leave policies. As to specific difficulties, many pointed to specific problems with health care personnel. And undoubtedly adding to the sense of frustration is the refuge FMLA provides for malingerers. There is a small contingent of unscrupulous employees who seem to have gained immunity from discipline through this law, despite serious attendance problems. This is a demoralizing prospect and one that detracts from the popularity FMLA might otherwise enjoy among HR practitioners."

Business & Legal Reports, 39 Academy St., Madison, CT 06443-1513.

Call toll free 800-542-7869 to subscribe; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time, weekdays.

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