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Lead Buzz 08/05

Redefining medical leave, unhappy employees and more

The Department of Labor is mulling over definitions for serious illnesses under the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as changes to "intermittent leave" rules that allow employees to take time off in segments of under an hour.

The FMLA definition of a serious illness is confusing, says Michael Eastman, director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, one group pushing for changes. "Ultimately, we want a greater ability to manage what looks like excessive absenteeism."

Fighting such changes is a coalition including the National Partnership for Women & Families. "The FMLA is under attack," says Lissa Bell, senior policy associate with the Washington, DC, group, which was a main proponent of FMLA legislation in the early 1990s.

Statistics are flying on both sides: A January Society for Human Resource Management survey of its members found 68 percent have had challenges administering medical leave under FMLA. But a 2000 Department of Labor survey found 9 in 10 companies said FMLA was "relatively easy" to administer.

Companies have to weigh the costs in morale and productivity. There's time to think about it: Changes probably won't go into effect until 2006.

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the August 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lead Buzz 08/05.

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