Getting hurt or sick is no fun, but what’s worse is worrying that you’ll lose your job if you take time off to recover. That’s why employee medical leaves are protected under both the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the analogous California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
Has FMLA/CFRA been good for the workplace?
Ever since FMLA went into effect in 1993, it has been a success. A U.S. Department of Labor report issued in June 2007 found employee reactions to FMLA to be uniformly positive. The report referenced a 2000 Westat Report which had found that “89% of employers reported that the FMLA has had either a positive or neutral effect on employee morale”. Numerous employees also commented that FMLA encouraged a “greater sense of loyalty to their employer”.
Nevertheless, some argue that FMLA/CFRA does not go far enough. I have already posted about how U.S. leave policies continue to lag far behind those of other countries around the world. See “U.S. FMLA/CFRA Leave Lags Far Behind Rest of World”. The AFL-CIO also cites a national survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago which found:
- the U.S. ranks at the bottom of 21 high-income nations in providing parental leave for workers
- 1 in 6 workers were fired, disciplined or threatened by their employer for taking time off for illness or to care for a sick family member
- Nearly 50 percent of private-sector workers and 76 percent of low-income workers have no paid sick days
It isn’t hard to understand why better leave policies would be better for everyone. According to Deborah Leff, president of the Public Welfare Foundation, paid sick leave is not only good workplace policy, but “good public health.”
The lack of paid sick days has real consequences for Americans forced to choose between losing a day’s pay or going to work sick. It’s difficult for employees to be productive when they are not well. They also expose co-workers and customers to illnesses.
“Sick and Fired: U.S. Workers Struggle Without Paid Sick, Parental Leave”
Employers complain that leave policies can be difficult to administer and that leave abuse is rampant.
Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy for U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had this to say:
It’s just too confusing and too vague. Right now, the system is such that it allows an employee who wishes to, to game the system.
“Do employees abuse the Family and Medical Leave Act?”
But employers should be asking themselves, is it really in their interests to have sick employees or employees with sick family members reporting to work for fear of losing pay or their jobs? Because the data suggests that that is exactly what is happening. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducted a study that concluded improved medical leave laws could save the U.S. economy $8.1 billion a year by preventing lost productivity due to sick workers, the spread of illness to co-workers and customers and worker turnover.
Besides, a suspicious employer can always ask the employee to undergo a second examination in order to get a second opinion whether medical leave is really justified. It is difficult to understand why more employers don’t take advantage of this little-used regulation.
If you believe your employer has interfered with or retaliated against your medical leave rights, contact a lawyer right away as strict filing deadlines may apply.