August 27, 2002
Few Use Family Leave
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Sixty percent of American workers are eligible to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but few actually do, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Since the FMLA became law almost a decade ago, employers report that 6.5 percent of workers have used the law to take time off, up from 3.6 in 1995.
One the deterrent factors is pressure, coming from bosses and colleagues who disapprove of so much time off. As an example of that, the Monitor points to a lawsuit brought by a former Maryland state trooper who was denied parental leave under FMLA. With a federal judge poised to decide the damage award before Labor Day, the suit appears likely to cost the state or the trooper's supervisor dearly.
But the Monitor also notes that a federal study reveals an even bigger obstacle: the feeling among most workers that they cannot afford to take up to 12 weeks off without pay.
"The FMLA is almost worthless for most American workers because it is unpaid and therefore rarely utilized, and then usually by ... higher-income workers," says lawyer Julie Shields, who became expert in the law while writing a just-published book on shared parenting.
Hence, there's a growing sense within the workforce that FMLA is not enough.
"Protection offered by the FMLA is limited in comparison to the pressure [on workers] created by competing demands," says Joshua Davis, an employment law expert at the Boston law firm of Hill & Barlow. "The work-life balance is, as working people know and the day-to-day experience of employers demonstrates, a constant issue."
California has gone farthest down the path of giving workers more help. A bill requiring workers to be paid during family-based leave has been approved by the state Senate. At press time, the state Assembly was poised to vote on the measure, which has been amended so that workers collectively pick up the tab instead of splitting the cost with employers.
Even with the changes, employers concerned that the added benefit will hurt profitability oppose the bill. If the bill is enacted, California would be the first state to adopt paid family and medical leave.