DoL Releases 2012 FMLA Survey Results on the Act’s 20th Anniversary

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The following is excerpted from the survey results.  The full reports can be found herehere, and here.

In 2012, Abt Associates surveyed 1,812 worksites and 2,852 employees about experiences with family and medical leave.  The worksite survey includes both sites that are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and those that are not covered.  The employee survey includes employees that took leave, those that had an unmet need for leave, those that had both, and those that had neither.  It also included employees who are eligible for the FMLA and those who are not.  These surveys update similar surveys in 1995 and 2000.  This document presents the findings of the survey, including comparisons between covered and uncovered worksites, between eligible and ineligible employees, and over time.  In addition to the main report, there is an Executive Summary, a Methodology Report, a Detailed Results Appendix, and a Public Use File Documentation Volume. 

Most worksites are not covered by the FMLA, but more than half of employees are eligible for the protections of the FMLA To be covered by the FMLA, a worksite must be part of a firm with at least 50 employees.  Only  about one in six worksites reports that it is covered by the FMLA (17%); another 30 percent are unsure.  These uncovered and unsure worksites tend to be small; covered worksites tend to be larger.   Not all employees at covered worksites are eligible.  To be eligible an employee must:  (i) work for a firm with 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite; (ii) have 12 months of tenure with this firm; and (iii) have worked 1,250 hours in the past year (about 24 hours per week).  Only slightly more than half of all employees report meeting all three of these conditions to be eligible for the protections of the FMLA (59%).   Expanding eligibility to smaller worksites would modestly increase eligibility.  Currently, eligibility requires that firms have 50 employees within 75 miles of this worksite; lowering the cutoff to 30 employees would increase eligibility from 59 percent to 63 percent, lowering it further to 20 employees would increase it to 67 percent.  Maintaining the 50 employees requirement, but lowering the hours worked requirement from 24 to 15 hours per week would increase eligibility from 59 percent to 63 percent.

 Leave is not uncommon

Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave per year for FMLA qualifying reasons which include:  (i) serious illness to self, spouse, parent, child; (ii) new child (birth, adoption, foster);  and (iii) military deployment of or service related injury to parent or child.  Thirteen percent of all employees took leave for a qualifying FMLA reason in the past year.  This is unchanged from 2000.  Rates of leave taking are higher among those eligible for the FMLA (16%) than for those not eligible (10%).  Some of this difference may be due to the causal effect of the FMLA, but some of the difference is likely due to the factors that affect eligibility (e.g., firm size, job tenure, hours worked). As such, it is also likely that at least some of this difference in rates of leave taking would remain even in the absence of the FMLA.  

 Most leave taken is for the employee’s own illness (57%).  Leave for pregnancy or a new child and illness of qualifying relative (spouse, child, or parent) is less common (22% and 19% respectively).  Leave for other qualifying reasons, including military reasons is quite rare (2%).  Most leave is short. Nearly half of all leave events last 10 days or less (42%); less than a fifth (17%) last more than 60 days. This distribution is similar across eligible and ineligible employees.

 Most employees receive some pay while on leave

The FMLA guarantees the rights of employees to return to their pre-leave position.  However, the Act includes no requirement that employers provide any pay during the leave.  Nevertheless, most employees receive some pay while on leave:  48 percent report receiving full pay and another 17 percent receive partial pay, usually, but not exclusively, through regular paid vacation leave, sick leave, or other “paid time off” hours.  Rates of full pay drop sharply for leaves of more than 10 days (60% for leaves of 10 days or less, 40%for leaves of more than 10 days).  Most employees who took leave in the past year report that they returned to work because there was no longer a need for leave.  Despite the receipt of some pay, the inability to afford leave is another common reason for returning to work (40%).  

 Unmet need for leave is limited

A small proportion of employees report that they needed leave but were unable to take it in the past year (5%).  Rates of unmet need for leave were similar across eligible and ineligible employees, but more than twice as high as in 2000.  Inability to afford the leave is the reason given by nearly half of those with unmet need for leave (46%).  

 Most employers report little negative impact of the FMLA

The results from the Worksite Survey vary depending on whether each worksite is given equal weight (“weighting by worksite”) versus larger worksites are given more weight (“weighting by employees”).  Therefore, we present both sets of results below.  

 Most covered worksites that are large enough to have eligible employees (that is, 50 employees within 75 miles) report little difficulty complying with the FMLA (only 14% report “somewhat difficult”; only 1% report “very difficult; weighting by worksite).  However, larger worksites are more likely to report difficulty complying, such that when weighting by employees, these figures increase to 3 percent for “very difficult” and 29 percent for “somewhat difficult”.  In addition, 30 percent report that the cost of administering the FMLA is rising (50% when weighting by employees).  Few worksites (less than 10 percent) perceive negative effects of complying with the FMLA on “employee productivity, absenteeism, turnover, career advancement, and morale…business profitability”.  However, these negative reports are more common among large firms (29% when weighting by employees).  

 While there has been considerable discussion of and concern expressed by some employers regarding intermittent leave (that is, two or more episodes of leave for the same reason), employee responses suggest that such leave is not common (only about 3% of employees took any intermittent leave).  Reports of negative impacts on profitability and productivity due to intermittent leave are rare (6% or less), though again, more common when weighting by employees (as high as 25%). 

 Closing thoughts

The nation now has nearly two decades experience with the FMLA.  Updating results from 1995 and 2000, the 2012 Surveys characterize the leave experiences of worksites and employees. Based on the 2012 Surveys, it appears that employees use of leave and employers granting and administration of leave has 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.


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