Twenty years after the enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has released a survey of over 1800 employers and 2,800 employees. Like two prior surveys conducted in 1995 and 2000, the most recent survey measured the impact of the FMLA on employers and employees. According to a DOL press release, the survey findings indicate that “employers generally find it easy to comply with the law, and misuse of the FMLA by workers is rare.”

Some of the other significant survey findings include:

  • Only 15% of employers are covered by the FMLA, and within that group, 59% of employees meet eligibility requirements to take the leave.
  • Employer knowledge of the FMLA has increased to 66%, but most believe the law is broader than it actually is.
  • Most employees take leave for their own illnesses (57%) followed by leave for pregnancy (22%) and for a qualifying relative (19%).
  • Most leave is for 10 days or less (42%) and only 17% of leave is taken for longer than 60 days.
  • According to the report, intermittent leave is not common (24.1% of leave takers) and few worksites report negative impacts from intermittent leave.

By way of summarizing the findings, the Acting Deputy Administrator for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division Mary Beth Maxwell said “[t]he FMLA has helped millions upon millions of working families manage challenging personal circumstances at very little cost to their employers and with very little disruption in the workplace."

The survey also touched on suggested future changes to the FMLA, including the 2008 presidential initiative to lower the coverage requirements to employers with 25 or more employees. The report found that if the definition of covered firms was lowered from those with 50 employees to 20 employees, the eligibility of employees under the FMLA would increase to 67%. As a result, the survey will likely be cited by some as a strong confirmation of the law’s effectiveness over the last 20 years and as a basis for expanding the law in the future.