Feature Stories - 2013

Abt/Abt SRBI Team conducts landmark FMLA Study

    Release Date: 2/1/2013

    The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) guarantees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave to qualifying employees for specified family and medical leave reasons.

    The nation now has nearly two decades of experience with the FMLA. Under a contract from the U.S. Department of Labor, Abt Associates and Abt SRBI conducted surveys of worksites and employees to understand their experiences with family and medical leave. The study was released on the 20th anniversary of the FMLA, February 4, 2013. Jacob Klerman (Abt Associates), Kelly Daley (Abt SRBI), and Alyssa Pozniak (Abt Associates) directed the project.

    The study concluded that the FMLA continues to make a positive impact on the lives of workers without imposing an undue burden upon employers. The FMLA is working, according to study findings.

    Updating results from 1995 and 2000, the 2012 survey shows that employees’ use of leave and employers’ granting and administration of leave seem to have achieved a level of stability. Employees appear to understand and actively make use of the intended benefits established by the FMLA. At the same time, employers appear to have efficiently integrated the administration of the FMLA into their ongoing operations without undue burden.

    Under the current law, only slightly more than half of all employees are eligible for the Act's job-protected leave (59%). Currently, eligibility requires that a firm have 50 employees within 75 miles of its worksite. The study finds that lowering the cutoff to 30 employees would increase eligibility from 59% to 63%, while lowering it to 20 employees would increase it to 67%. Maintaining the 50 employees requirement but lowering the hours-worked requirement from 24 to 15 hours per week would increase eligibility from 59% to 63%.

    On the employee side, leave is not uncommon:

    • 13% of all employees took leave for a qualifying FMLA reason in the past year, unchanged from 2000.
    • Rates of leave-taking are higher among those eligible for the FMLA (16%) than for those not eligible (10%).

    The study finds that some of this difference may be due to the causal effect of the FMLA. However, some of the difference (our analyses suggested nearly half) is likely due to the factors that affect eligibility (e.g., firm size, job tenure, hours worked), so at least some of this difference would probably remain even in the absence of the FMLA. Consistent with this interpretation, simply limiting the sample to those who meet the job tenure and hours-worked requirement substantially shrinks the eligible/ineligible difference. However, the survey methods used in this report are not appropriate for establishing the causal impact of the FMLA on leave-taking or on other outcomes.

    Full Report and Methodological Detail