Bush Seeks to Lessen Scope of FMLA

The Bush administration has sided with businesses in considering the overhaul of 76 regulations, claiming that the changes will help ease the burden on US manufacturing firms. Among the possible changes are the regulations carrying out the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible workers up to a total of 12 workweeks unpaid, job-protected leave during any 12 month period for childbirth, medical leave, or the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition. FMLA opponents are pushing to change the definition of “serious health condition” to only include leave lasting more than ten days; the current definition is any condition that requires leave for at least three days for treatment and recovery. Half of all those who have utilized the FMLA have taken leave for less than ten days. The proposed changes also include allowing employees to take no less than half days at a time without pay, which would affect employees requiring frequent short treatments, such as prenatal visits.

Research shows that the FMLA has benefited businesses, with nine out of ten covered employers stating that the FMLA has a positive or neutral effect on productivity and growth, according to a US Department of Labor employer survey released in 2000. The FMLA has allowed more than 50 million Americans to benefit from job-protected leave since it was enacted 12 years ago.

The proposed changes to the FMLA are only the tip of the iceberg. The White House Office of Management and Budget has ordered federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor, to review or update regulations on subjects from pollution control to worker leave, reports Reuters. While the administration asserts such changes are meant to help US manufacturers stay competitive by eliminating regulations that are ineffective, duplicative or more costly than the benefits they provide, these modifications also give ground to special interests, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Robert Schull, an analyst at the nonprofit watchdog organization OMB Watch, called the administration’s proposal a “wish list from industry” which will lead to the weakening of environmental protections, as well as consumer and workplace safety, reports Reuters. “They are doing whatever they can to help corporate interests,” Schull continued.

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Reuters 3/9/05, Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3/15/05

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