Sixteen percent of eligible workers took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act last year to recover from an illness, care for a new child or tend to a sick relative, according to a government report released on the law's 20th anniversary Tuesday. Most employers said the absences did not hamper productivity or profitability.
The Obama administration said the law is helping millions of workers cope with family hardships with little disruption to employers, putting to rest fears raised two decades ago that the law would drive companies out of business and lead to rampant fraud and abuse.
"Workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care," acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris said at an agency ceremony marking the anniversary.
Harris was joined by former President Bill Clinton, who signed the measure into law in 1993 and said he has received more thanks from people for the family leave act than for any other law passed during his presidency.
The law allows eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without fear of losing their jobs. Most leaves are relatively short, with 40 percent of workers reporting they were away from work for 10 days or less, the survey said. But nearly half of workers who said they needed leave and did not take it said they could not afford unpaid leave.
At the same time, 85 percent of work sites covered by the law reported that compliance was "somewhat easy," very easy," or had "no noticeable effect," the report said.
Nearly half the workforce is not covered under the law, which applies to companies with 50 or more employees and those working at least 24 hours per week.