WASHINGTON-A Congressional commission gave a rosy assessment of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in its first three years, saying it ``has had a positive impact on employees overall.'' Employers, however-including several in the tire and rubber industry-were somewhat less generous in assessing the leave law, which passed in 1993. While some said the law gave them little or no trouble, others cited possible employee abuses and problems in getting temporary replacements for key workers.
As passed, the FMLA requires employers with 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to full-time employees in the event of personal illness, family illness or the birth or adoption of a child.
The bill included a requirement for an appointed commission to make a report to Congress on the law's efficacy within three years of passage.
That commission-whose members include senators, congressmen and cabinet members-praised the FMLA in their report issued May 1.
``It has succeeded in replacing the piecemeal nature of voluntary employer leave policies and state leave statutes with a more consistent and uniform standard,'' the commission said in its executive summary.
``The FMLA has not been the burden to business that some had feared,'' it added. ``For most employers, compliance is easy, the costs are non-existent or small and the effects are minimal. Most periods of leave are short, most employees return to workand reduced turnover seems to be a tangible positive effect.''
According to the report, costs have been minimal for family and medical leaves in 89.2 to 98.5 percent of U.S. workplaces. Larger companies were more likely to suffer increased costs than smaller ones. Eighty-four percent of all leave-takers returned to the same employer, 6 percent went to other employers and 10 percent stayed on leave.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association's reaction tended to back the report. ``I'm not sure it (the FMLA) has ever been much of an issue for our companies,'' said Peter J. Pantuso, RMA vice president of public affairs.
However, the International Tire and Rubber Association (formerly the American Retreaders Association) sees the leave law as more problematic. ``In our business (tire retreading and recycling), you simply can't replace someone for a short period of time,'' said ITRA Government Relations Director Roy E. Littlefield III. ``The jobs are too high-ly technical, too specialized.''
ITRA member companies tend to be small, according to Mr. Littlefield, and ``the larger the company, the more ability they have to replace someone temporarily'' as the law requires.
At least the FMLA, as passed, is less onerous to small business than the original bill, noted Donald T. Wilson, government affairs director for the Washington, D.C.-based National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
Originally, employers with 15 or more workers were expected to provide leave. ``The impact was greatly lessened by raising that threshold,'' Mr. Wilson said.
``Also, a lot of people just didn't feel financially able to leave their jobs for 12 weeks, so there hasn't been the number of complaints we expected. Still, it's much easier for General Motors to handle this law than a tire dealer,'' he added.
Paul Huard, senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the report ``fails to detail some of the serious administrative and practical problems our members have experienced with the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.''
Many NAM members, Mr. Huard said, complain the law ``has provided some workers with an excuse to have many unexplained absences.''
In particular, he said, the law gives such a broad definition of a ``chronic'' condition ``that almost any medical condition can fit the criteria.''
Larry Morgan, president of Don Olson Tire & Auto Centers, Clearwater, Fla., said his business has had ``two or three'' workers go on leave, of which one ``used the leave for different reasons than what the law intends.''
Because Don Olson Tire is a large chain, it can move workers into different spots without much difficulty, according to Mr. Morgan.
``But if you're a one- or two-store operation, it could be a problem,'' Mr. Morgan said.