WASHINGTON — Two decades after Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Obama administration said Tuesday that a new report shows the law is helping millions of workers cope with family hardships with little disruption to employers.
Just 16 percent of eligible workers took time off under the law last year to recover from an illness, care for a new child or tend to a sick relative, according to the Labor Department survey released on the law's 20th anniversary.
At the same time, 85 percent of work sites covered by the law reported that compliance was somewhat easy, very easy, or had no noticeable effect.
Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris said the report puts to rest fears the law would drive companies out of business and lead to rampant fraud and abuse.
Workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care, acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris said at an agency ceremony.
Harris was joined by former President Bill Clinton, who signed the measure into law in 1993 and said he has received more thanks from people for the family leave act than for any other law passed during his presidency. People desperately want to have successful families, to be good parents and to have a job and succeed at it, Clinton said. If you take one away to get the other, the country pays a grievous price and every life is diminished.
Since the law took effect, workers have taken leave more than 100 million times.
The law allows eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without fear of losing their jobs.
But nearly half of workers who said they needed leave but did not take it said they could not afford unpaid leave.
Nancy Hammer, spokeswoman for the Society for Human Resource Management, said employers support the spirit and the intent of the law, but the difficulty comes in the regulatory scheme and how difficult it is to administer in the workplace.