Until 1993, workers were at the mercy of their employer's demands, and would often be forced to resign to accommodate their sick child or ailing parent. Larger workforces usually had some form of a leave of absence, but there was no standardization or legal protection to guarantee that your job would still be waiting for you when you returned. In 1993, President Clinton signed the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that guaranteed US workers that they would have some amount of legal protection if they are forced to take time off from work to take care of a sick family member, or help a woman through the childbirth period. While the intent of the FMLA is simple enough, there are myriad caveats and regulations that enact the legislation.
The 1993 FMLA, and subsequent amendments, have created a law that allows time off to be taken by an immediate family member to care for a sick or injured relative. The time frame allowed is generally 12 weeks, though this may vary in specific situations. Because the law attempts to accommodate a wide range of scenarios, and anticipate the application of the law, it has numerous special provisions and entitlements. The purpose of this paper will be to clearly define the eligibility requirements for FMLA leave. This paper will explain what is required to obtain a leave under FMLA. It will present examples of the proper use of the FMLA, as well as the improper use of the Act. This paper will examine the potential for fraud and abuse under the law, and what is currently done to eliminate or reduce these cases. In addition, it will explain the penalty for abuse, and attempt to reveal why abuse may be difficult to identify and punish. It will accomplish these goals by examining the law from the standpoint of the individual as well as the organization. While this paper will strive to be complete, it is recognized that the number of specific rules, regulations, and exceptions makes a full and detailed explanation beyond the scope of this paper. The paper will cover the most widely used, and most common requests that are made to employers by workers that have a family member in need of care.
Brief Historical Background
The 1993 Act was finally passed and signed into law by President Clinton after two unsuccessful attempts were vetoed by President George Bush SR. in the 101st and 102nd Congresses. A Senate Report from the time noted the "demographic revolution" of the time, as well as the increasing numbers of women in the workforce, the number of adults who care for their parents, and the growing number of single parent families (Lee, 1993, 8). The Senate further contended that these numbers would have "profound consequences for the lives of working men and women and their families" (Lee, 1993, 8). In essence, single parent homes left sick children with no caregiver except the breadwinner, and aging adults that would be left to the mercy of the welfare system. In passing the FMLA in 1993 Congress stated that the Act was to "provide job security as well as a proper balance between work and family life for employees, resulting in increased worker productivity for employers" (Lee, 1993, 9). At the time the bill was passed, private employers had "failed to adequately respond to economic and social changes that intensified the tensions between work and