Labor Dept. Reviews Family Leave Rules

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 30, 2006; 6:23 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is examining regulations that give workers unpaid leave to deal with family or medical emergencies, making some supporters of the rules wary that worker protections might be scaled back.

The Labor Department said Thursday it will seek comment from the public, employers, workers and other interested parties on the matter. Comments are due to the agency by Feb. 2.

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act grants eligible workers up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for such things as caring for a newborn or a sick family member, or because the employee has a serious health condition.

President Clinton signed the bill into law soon after he arrived at the White House for his first term.

The department is seeking feedback on a range of issues. They include matters related to eligibility standards for employees, what constitutes a serious health condition and whether steps need to be taken to boost employees' awareness of their rights.

"This is meant to be a very objective review," Victoria Lipnic, assistant secretary for the Labor Department's Employment Standards Administration, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"We're genuinely in search of information and having looked at the issues now for a number of years ... it became apparent we really needed some fresh thinking on this. I am hoping that is what all of this will yield," she said.

Over the years, there have been various court decisions and complaints from employers and employees about the rules.

Debra Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes fairness in the workplace and other matters. Ness does not want to see sweeping changes "that could seriously undermine the protections that people now have, and our worry is that this is a step toward doing that," she said in an interview.

The department estimates that 6.1 million people take unpaid leave each year under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Lipnic said.

The department also wants to collect information about workers on "intermittent leave" _ repeatedly taking a few hours or days off at a time because of family or medical reasons.


On the Net:

Background on the Family and Medical Leave Act:

© 2006 The Associated Press