This page is optimized for a taller screen. Please rotate your device or increase the size of your browser window.

Assessing the Family and Medical Leave Act


  • DOL has commissioned a study to understand the range of perspectives on FMLA.
  • Update and expand evidence about FMLA use and leave-taking
  • Aggregate results and results for selected subgroups
The Challenge

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees eligible U.S. employees of covered employers job-protected unpaid leave to attend to their or their family’s eligible medical issues. Employees may have access to pay while on leave through other means. The Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office commissioned two national surveys to understand perspectives on the FMLA:

  • An employee survey that examines leave usage patterns, unmet needs, and access to paid leave
  • An employer survey that examines leave policies and experiences with and perceptions of the FMLA. 
The Approach

The new surveys update and expand on the evidence about FMLA use and leave-taking  generated by three prior “waves” of surveys in 1995, 2000, and 2012. Abt conducted the “wave 4” study from August 2016 until 2020.
For comparisons over time, Abt maintained the core components of the survey instruments from previous studies. However, we updated the instruments to reflect emerging areas of both policy and research interest. We fielded the employee and employer surveys in 2018.

The Results

The study explored:

Access to paid leave:   

  • Almost three-quarters of employees report having access to paid leave for their own illness or medical care.
  • Employees earning less than $15 an hour were much less likely to have access to paid leave than higher earning employees.
  • For employees who took leave in the previous 12 months, 42 percent received full pay, 24 percent received partial pay, and 34 percent received no pay.

Effects of taking leave:   

  • Employees making less than $15 per hour more commonly lost their job when they took leave than higher earning employees.

Unmet need for leave:

  • In the previous 12 months, 7 percent of employees needed but didn’t take leave.

Employer perspectives:

  • 95 percent of FMLA-covered worksites reported positive/neutral perceptions of the effect of FMLA on productivity, profitability, and employees; 90 percent reported no difficulty complying with the FMLA.




Video: Orientation to Public Use Data Files

leave taking

Video: Leave Taking Results Presentation

worksite experiences

Video: Worksite Experiences Results Presentation