Mr. Speaker, this Saturday, February 5, 2005, will mark the 12th anniversary of legislation that has made an enormous difference in the lives of millions of working Americans since its enactment in 1993. I speak of course of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
I count myself among the Family and Medical Leave Act's strongest supporters. Since its enactment, this law has brought peace of mind and job security during critical times to millions of American workers and their families. The FMLA allows qualified employees to take unpaid leave from their employer for the birth or adoption of a child, to attend to the serious health crisis of a family member, or attend to their own serious medical issue. The law makes clear that no American should have to choose between caring for a gravely ill family member and losing his or her job.
Since its enactment in 1993, millions of Americans have used the FMLA to take time to care for a newborn, to attend to an adult parent or child's serious illness, or perhaps to attend to their own critical medical needs. They have done so knowing that their job remained safe and secure. Indeed, many employers have gone far beyond the requirements of the FMLA, providing their employees with leave benefits beyond those required under state or federal law.
In congressional hearings on the FMLA, in town meetings, and in speaking with both employers and employees in our districts, we hear that so much of the FMLA works the way Congress intended. As all of us who serve in this body know, however, actions we take here in Congress with the best of intentions often end up going in a direction we don't expect.
In particular, with respect to the FMLA, we have heard that the "family" part of Family and Medical Leave has worked well, providing employees a much-needed benefit and the time to care for a newborn or adopted child, while enabling employers to manage and maintain the productivity of their workforce.
It appears that implementation of "medical" leave has been less successful. It is plain that Congress intended FMLA to serve as a safety net for employees to meet serious and unforeseen medical needs. The Act was not intended to be—nor dare I say would it have been enacted if it were—a national "sick leave" policy. When medical leave is used for those serious health conditions for which it is intended, we hear from employers that morale and productivity are unaffected—indeed, that employees often rally to the aid of a colleague. In contrast, where medical leave is abused, or used beyond its intended purpose, morale and productivity suffer, employers are unable to manage their workplace, and resentment grows in co-workers who are forced to pick up chronic slack.
Similarly, we have heard repeatedly that recordkeeping and notice requirements under the Act are not in tune with the realities of today's workplace, and serve as a barrier to both employers and employees in knowing and exercising their rights. Concerns about misapplying the FMLA have often discouraged employers from providing more generous leave policies to their workers. Research also has shown that confusion surrounding FMLA regulatory requirements has actually served to hurt those it was supposed to help—workers.
Employers and employees alike have expressed concerns that the effectiveness of the law is being hampered by the way the Act has been implemented by regulatory agencies and interpreted by the courts. This is troubling and has, unfortunately, led to charges that the FMLA is a bad law. As a supporter of the FMLA, I would be the first to say that is not true: the FMLA is a good law, although with the benefit of 12 years of experience, perhaps a law in need of fine-tuning. Without action to clarify the law, we will surely see an increasing number of lawsuits challenging FMLA regulations—litigation that costs employees, employers, unions and the courts valuable time, effort and money.
On the anniversary of its enactment, I look forward to working with a wide array of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress, to keep the best parts of the FMLA intact, while targeting common-sense, necessary improvements where the Act has failed to meet Congressional expectations.
Many issues in Congress are polarized, but restoring the Congressional intent of this law needn't be. I am confident that good minds can and will agree so that we can work to preserve the protections offered to workers by the FMLA, address failings in the Act that serve the interests of neither employers nor employees, and ensure that the benefits afforded to millions of working Americans in the last 12 years will be afforded to millions more in the years to come.
151 Congr. Rec. E145. (2005). https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/volume-151/issue-9/extensions-of-remarks-section/article/E145-4.