Panel Paper: The Adverse Effects of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on Women

Friday, April 7, 2017 : 4:20 PM
Founders Hall Room 475 (George Mason University Schar School of Policy)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Layla Alanazi, Virginia Commonwealth University
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), 70 percent of women with children under 17 participate in the workforce in United States. The high percentage of women with children in the workforce raises many issues of parental leave that are of interest to policy makers, employers and families. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was the first public policy  in the United States to guarantee an unpaid leave for up to twelve weeks for both men and women for certain personal, family and health issues such as the care of children, elderly parents, or serious health conditions. As per this federal policy, health coverage and other benefits continue through the leaåve as if the employee had not taken a leave. Despite being effective to families in need in terms of job tenure, FMLA is proved to have negative economic outcomes, most notably for women as being the most leave-takers (Miller, 2011).

         To support this argument, the first section of this paper introduces the reader to a background about the FMLA as a federal policy, its eligibility conditions, why its use by women has expanded, and how it turns to be one of the causes of gender inequality in the workforce. This leads to a discussion of the Merton’s Manifest and Latent Functions theory and how it applies precisely to the case of the FMLA and its effects on the employment outcomes of women. Using this theory, I will discuss the anticipated consequences of the FMLA and the potential benefits on its beneficiaries, as well as its unanticipated consequences and adverse effects on women. I will conclude by using Merton’s Manifest and Latent Functions theory to discuss five of the main adverse effects of the FMLA on women. First, women are observed to be the higher takers of FMLA compared to men (Boushey and Glynn, 2012), which leads to increased issues of wage inequality between men and women in the workplace. Second, the act was first passed to account for gender equality among both working men and women. However, men achieve higher positions and greater pay and compensation than women. Third, research suggests that there are many women who are unable to take advantage of the FMLA despite their eligibility, due to the fact that they cannot live without pay for a long period of time, because of the financial difficulties they will face if they take it. Fourth, the limited eligibility requirements under this policy left many families with no coverage. Finally, there are incidents of inequality in the promotions and career advancement decisions practiced on women, who return to work after taking FMLA leave, which forced them to exist the work early, notably mothers and single parents.