The Pros & Cons of FMLA

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The Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly known as FMLA, offers covered employees job protection in the event that they need extended leave for their own health issues or to care for family members who are experiencing health problems. While FMLA is undoubtedly a boon for employees, it has pros and cons for employers who are required to offer FMLA leave.


FMLA provides certain employees, who work for covered employers, with up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year. During that time, health benefits must be provided as they are when the employee is actively working. Covered employers include public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, and public school systems. Additionally, private employers who have 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks per year (or in the preceding calendar year) must provide FMLA. FMLA covers leave for serious illness, the birth of, and care for, a newborn child, the adoption of a child or placement of a foster child, and to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. For serious illness, the leave can be taken intermittently. Additionally, employees who have an immediate family member who is a reservist, or National Guard member who has been called to active duty, may use FMLA. Those who are caregivers for a member of the Armed Forces who has suffered serious injury or illness while on active duty, may take up to 26 weeks per 12 month period.

Pros for Employees

The benefits of FMLA for employees are obvious. The freedom to deal with a serious illness or to care for a family member reduces anxiety and stress about losing employment during the illness. The ability to retain health insurance during this time also prevents employees from losing coverage during a time when it is needed most.

Pros for Employers

FMLA is a valuable benefit to the recruitment of new employees, especially those who are planning to expand their families in the future. Furthermore, it improves the morale of existing employees by alleviating anxieties related to their own or family members' illnesses.

Cons for Employers

Although there is no requirement to pay employees for FMLA, reorganizing the workplace to accommodate an employee that is off work for an extended amount of time, or intermittently, can be expensive. It is sometimes necessary to hire part-time or temporary employees to fill in for the employee who is taking FMLA. Even though benefits may not be extended to these part-time or temp workers, worker's compensation and other required coverages nevertheless create expense. Creating work schedules and rearranging duties to provide coverage while an employee takes FMLA can also be difficult, especially if other employees also take FMLA, have vacation time to take, or need to travel for the business.

Cons for Employees

The downside of FMLA is often not felt by the employees who are taking leave so much as it is by those who are left behind. Taking on extra duties and extra shifts to make sure nothing is left undone is often necessary. Scheduling needed time off for appointments or for vacation may be a challenge.