Family and Medical Leave Act and Employee Rights

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is a federal law of the United States that requires covered employers to grant employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified family and medical reasons. The qualified reasons include the following: pregnancy, adoption, personal illness or a family member’s illness, and the foster care of a child. The act has provoked controversy since its introduction in the 1990s and has forced employers and employees to treat it differently. According to the research of Armenia, Gerstel and Wing (2014), FMLA compliance among companies with 50 or more workers is only 54.3%. These figures clearly demonstrate that employees in approximately 50% of cases abuse their rights to take a sick leave and thus create additional challenges for employers to cope with the act requirements.

From the point of view of a healthcare expert, the act provides eligible employees with unprecedented opportunities to take as much time for recovery as needed. These rights work for both employees and their families. In accordance with the FMLA, all private company workers are entitled to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month work period for reasons of child birth, adoption, foster care, serious health conditions, or to care for an ill spouse. The leave, however, could be prolonged up to 26 workweeks if either the employee or his/her spouse, child, or parent has suffered a serious injury (Chen, 2014). By granting such rights to all US private sector workers, Congress gives legal security to new mothers and employees who either need to improve their health or care for sick relatives. The ability to take a day off at any time due to associated health conditions helps one to significantly reduce workload and to stay more relaxed in one’s day-to-day routine.

Employers, however, have an adverse opinion regarding the matter. The majority of them agree that the law was labeled as a winning option for their workers but, at the same time, imposed serious limitations on company leadership. Many tend to believe that the act was introduced to protect lazy workers and that it was actually detrimental to both healthcare organizations and public services (Armenia et al., 2014). Currently, employers face numerous abuses and out-of-the-way cases in which employees take intermittent leave and spend that time on entertaining activities. Naturally, such violations force supervisors and company heads to change the initial loyal policy and do investigations prior to granting leave. Today, an employer may ask a healthcare provider about a patient’s condition to clarify whether the worker is telling the truth or not. However, such investigations quite often take a lot of working time and thus negatively impact supervisors’ day-to-day operations. Moreover, the need to inform a human resource department and other units about the case makes the working process even more complicated.

In conclusion, one needs to point out that the opinions regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act turned out to be ambivalent. Employees and healthcare organizations tend to believe that the act protects their rights and reflects constitutional norms and regulations about labor. On the other hand, company heads and supervisors stick to the opinion that the law has made them victims of circumstances, incapable of protecting their interests. The research shows that the opinion of the latter is not without common sense, for workers do occasionally abuse their rights to stay at home whenever they wish to.


Armenia, A., Gerstel, N., & Wing, C. (2014). Workplace compliance with the law: The case of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Work and Occupations, 41(3), 277-304.

Chen, M. L. (2014). The growing costs and burden of family caregiving of older adults: A review of paid sick leave and family leave policies. The Gerontologist, 56(3), 391-396.

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