SHRM Study Highlights FMLA's Challenges

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Fri., July 27, 2007 8:30 a.m. EDT

Jul 27, 2007
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(Alexandria, Va., July 27, 2007)—Nearly 40 percent of human resource (HR) professionals report that confusion over implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act has led to illegitimate leave being granted, according to a report released today by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

SHRM surveyed 521 respondents on FMLA-related compliance issues, in the wake of regulatory and judicial actions that have clouded and confused its original intent, resulting in inconsistent and inequitable implementation.

"The FMLA is long overdue for a check-up to ensure it serves the best interests of our employees' health and well being," said Susan R. Meisinger, president and CEO of SHRM. "The SHRM study provides insight into what front-line HR professionals are encountering and highlights the need for change."

Respondents report that there have been more requests to take FMLA leave in the last five years compared with 10 years ago, particularly for episodic conditions (ongoing injuries, ongoing illnesses, and/or non-life threatening conditions).

SHRM's study follows on the heels of a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recent release of findings from a Request for Information to solicit comments from the public on FMLA.

"This new SHRM study reaffirms the need for clarifications and improvements to FMLA," said Mike Aitken, director of governmental affairs for SHRM.

Key findings in the SHRM study include:

  • Two of the most challenging FMLA-related activities identified by organizations are tracking/administering intermittent FMLA leave and determining the overall costs incurred while complying with the requirements of the FMLA.
  • In an open comment portion of the study, many HR professionals noted that the timing of intermittent FMLA leave requests (e.g. around weekends, holidays, pleasant weather) raised suspicions of abuse.

SHRM's "FMLA and Its Impact on Organizations" survey numbers show:

  • Of the leave taken by employees, 59 percent was for medical reasons, 38 percent was for family-related reasons, and 38 percent was for an employee's episodic condition.
  • The number of organizations that offer job protected leave above and beyond FMLA regulations fell from 59 percent in 2003 to 44 percent in 2007.
  • Respondents admitted that the FMLA can have a negative impact on employee absences (63 percent), employee productivity (55 percent) and business productivity (54 percent).
  • Fifty-five percent of organizations now offer sick time as part of a paid time-off plan that includes vacation and personal days, while 37 percent offer sick time as a separate benefit.
  • During an employee's FMLA leave, nearly nine out of 10 organizations attended to the employee's workload by assigning work temporarily to other employees.

SHRM's 521 survey respondents represent publicly- and privately-owned companies, nonprofits, and the government sector. The margin of error is four percent.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was established to provide job-protected unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. The results from this survey will assist policy-makers as they seek to make possible changes to FMLA rules.

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