WASHINGTON — Just 16 percent of eligible workers took time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act last year to recover from an illness, care for a new child or tend to a sick relative, according to a government report released on the law's 20th anniversary Tuesday. Most employers said the absences did not hamper productivity or profitability.

The Obama administration said the law is helping millions of workers cope with family hardships with little disruption to employers, putting to rest fears raised two decades ago that the law would drive companies out of business and lead to rampant fraud and abuse.

"Workers should not have to choose between the job they need and the family members they love and who need their care," Labor Secretary Seth Harris said.

"People desperately want to have successful families, to be good parents and to have a job and succeed at it," former President Bill Clinton said. "If you take one away to get the other, the country pays a grievous price and every life is diminished."