Labor Department Study Affirms That FMLA ‘Is Working as Intended’

Unions Beat Back Effort to Weaken Law

July 2, 2007

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A Department of Labor study released June 27 confirms what most Americans already know, that “family and medical leave is good for workers and their families, is in the public interest, and is good workplace policy.” 

In a foreword to the study, Assistant Secretary of Labor Victoria A. Lipnic wrote, “No employment law matters more to America’s care-giving workforce than the Family and Medical Leave Act.” The report discussed public comments that the Department of Labor (DOL) received in response to a “Request for Information” notice in the December 2006 Federal Register.

“This conclusion is a victory for the labor movement,” said Legislative Director Myke Reid. “The DOL’s request for information caused concern among unions because the agency, which implements workplace rules for the FMLA, has used its regulatory authority in the past to weaken workers’ rights.”

Employers had seized on the Department of Labor request in an attempt to undermine the FLMA, Reid noted, asserting that the agency should limit the definition of a serious health condition; demand more frequent reviews of FMLA conditions; restrict the definition of eligible employees; eliminate intermittent leave, and rescind a provision of the act that requires supervisors to get an employee’s permission before contacting his or her doctor.

But unions, workers, and advocates for family-friendly policies carried the day. Summarizing the 15,000 comments that the department received from workers, employers, and other interested parties, Lipnic said, “ The Department is pleased to observe that, in the vast majority of cases, the FMLA is working as intended.”

“Normally, the organization of comments received in response to a Departmental Request for Information would first be seen accompanying proposed changes to the rules,” Lipnic wrote, but “There are no proposals for regulatory changes being put forward by the Department with this Report.”

“Employers used the request for information in an effort to impose more restrictions on a worker’s right to use leave under the FMLA,” said APWU President William Burrus. “But unions and other parties submitted thousands of statements in support of this law, which we fought so hard to pass. We are pleased that the report recognizes that the FMLA is accomplishing its goal — giving workers the ability to fulfill family responsibilities without jeopardizing their jobs.” 

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