Democratic congressional leaders have voiced opposition to the proposed changes to the FMLA implementing regulations recently announced by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) recently expressed their concern that the proposed changes would discourage employees from exercising their right to take family and medical leave. Senator Dodd, the Subcommittee chairman and sponsor of the original FMLA, identified proposals allowing employers to require employers to provide medical recertification every six months and allowing employers to contact the employee's health care provider directly as areas of particular concern.
The Senator felt that the additional documentation burden might be unnecessary with long-term chronic conditions that did not change. Senator Dodd also expressed concern about a loss of employee or family member medical privacy in the event that an employer was allowed to contact the physician directly without the employee's knowledge and permission.
Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, observed:
When so many families are struggling, this is the worst possible time to roll back the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
House Education and Labor Committee Charmian George Miller (D-CA) opined:
"This proposal clearly benefits employers at the expense of workers."
Senator and Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton similarly observed:
Our economy is sliding into recession and the strain on working families- from stagnant wages, rising energy costs, looming foreclosures and skyrocketing tuition- is growing. Yet, the Bush Administration has acted once again to tilt the balance of power towards corporations instead of heard working Americans.
Responding to the critics, DOL Assistant Secretary of Labor Victoria Lipnic defended the proposed changes:
Without action to bring clarity and predictability for FMLA leave-takers and their employers, the department foresees employers and employees taking more adversarial approaches to leave, with workers having a legitimate need for FMLA leave being hurt the most.
Democrats have several options available to address the proposed regulatory changes. Hearings before House and Senate Labor Committees heave been scheduled on the proposed changes. Additionally, Senator Dodd has indicated that he intends to submit comments to the DOL regarding the proposed changes.
Another option available to congressional Democrats would be to attach a rider to an appropriations bill that would prevent funding for implementation of the proposed changes.
Finally, the CongressionalDaily observed that, even if implemented, the regulatory changes would have a "short life under the administration of the next president." Presumably, the CongressionalDaily believes that the next president will be from the Democratic party.
Comment: It will be interesting to see if the regulatory changes proposed by the DOL will be enacted before the expiration of President Bush's term of office.