Angry about what he considers an overly broad Clinton administration reading of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, a key House Republican is pushing a bill to clarify certain provisions. But some of his colleagues warn that an election year is not the time to revisit the popular law.
A triumphant Democratic Congress passed the FMLA as one of its first acts after President Clinton took office in 1993. The law requires employers of 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to employees who seek time off for the birth or adoption of a child; the serious illness of a child, spouse or parent; or serious health problems of their own.It is the Labor Department's interpretation of that last provision that caught the attention of Rep. Harris Fawell, R-Ill., chairman of the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations. He introduced a bill last month that would repeal regulations issued by the Labor Department defining a "serious health condition."
Fawell, who - like most Republicans - voted against the family leave act in 1993, conceded that the law "has done some good for those with serious family and medical crises."
However, he said, "some of the troublesome results are difficult to ignore."
Fawell argues that Labor's definition of serious health condition is "extremely expansive," including, among other things, "any absence of more than three days in which the employee sees any health care provider and receives any type of continuing treatment."
Such a broad definition, Fawell said, "potentially mandates FMLA leave where an employee sees a health care provider once, receives a prescription drug, and is instructed to call the health care provider back if the symptoms do not improve."
Fawell's bill would replace the department's definition with language from the conference report on the bill from 1993, written by then-majority Democrats, defining a serious illness. And his bill would allow employers to require that an employee with an illness choose between using the company's sick leave policy or the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Fawell says he expects to move the bill this year, his final session of Congress (he is retiring after this term). And he suggests that once people study the measure, they will see it as "relatively benign."