Is it Wise to Use Your Family Medical Leave?

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Millions of working Americans rely on family and medical leave from their jobs to take care of themselves, their loved ones and to raise their children, all without being fired. But on balance, how wise is it to take leave?

In 1993, Congress passed a landmark labor law called the Family and Medical Leave Act. The intention was to protect workers from the demands of the workplace when they are conflicted with workers’ basic health needs, or those of their families. As a result, millions of employers were newly required to provide eligible employees with up to 12-work weeks of unpaid leave during every 12-month period in order to attend to a serious health condition, a health condition of a family member, or pregnancy and care of a newborn child.

Through the FMLA, employers also have to provide the same group health insurance benefits at the same premium price during a leave period, and give the employee their job back when they return. The labor-friendly safety-net has benefitted countless individuals and families, but taking advantage of optional FMLA leave may not always be a good idea.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than half of surveyed workers said the three months of FMLA-provided unpaid leave, which can also be taken intermittently, simply isn’t feasible. Bills and other financial obligations would go unmet. Other concerns relate to the loss of hard-earned career seniority, being passed over for job advancement opportunities, and somehow still losing a job even though the law prohibits it.

Studies also show that FMLA leave has the unintended consequence of contributing to an income gap between men and women in the workforce. Pregnancy and childbirth are by far the most common reasons for FMLA leave, and many women find themselves relegated to lesser workplace rolls, or passed over with respect to promotions and advancement decisions when they return to work. Income is directly tied to these adverse outcomes.

FMLA leave can have an even more insidious effect as some employers may view time away from work as lost productivity, and equate female workers with being more expensive to employ than men. This can lead to discrimination against women in the hiring process.

Careful considerations about whether to take family and medical leave, or actions against any improper effects of doing so, can best be done in consultation with an employment attorney. Do not wait to schedule a meeting with a member of our experienced, local legal team today.