Journal Issue: Work and Family Volume 21 Number 2 Fall 2011
The Employer Perspective
Although the child health care burden on parents can be enormous, the burden of parent absences on employers can also be substantial. The costs to employers of unplanned or unscheduled absences by all employees are estimated at 9 percent of payroll, and the total costs, direct and indirect, of all major absence categories average 35 percent of base payroll.50 Employers, therefore, have clear stakeholder interests in parents’ decisions regarding employment and leave.
Employers seek to avoid costly or unnecessary disruptions to essential operations. Even when parent absences are unpaid, they have the potential to create disruptions that can be rectified only by the costly hiring and training of temporary employees or the shifting of work responsibilities to existing employees at the potential expense of less critical but still important activities. Department of Labor estimates suggest that employee absences cost U.S. businesses $100 billion a year in lost productivity.51 Thus, employers may have an incentive to discourage or prevent parents from leaving work to tend to their child’s health care needs. Moreover, workplace benefits are inherently at risk for at least some level of abuse by employees. According to some estimates, only 34 percent of all unscheduled absences are related to employee illness, while 22 percent are related to family issues, such as caring for children or dependent parents.52 In addition, a survey of 450 human resources professionals found that suspected employee abuse of intermittent leave taken under the FMLA was the primary FMLA-related concern for employers, and that the potential for or suspicion of abuse was reported to cause extreme difficulty in 42 percent of the organizations surveyed.53 A separate survey showed that 47 percent of employers felt that unjustified intermittent leave posed at least “somewhat of a problem” for their operations.54 Therefore, employers also have incentives to institute reporting and medical necessity requirements, as well as waiting periods and other restrictions to discourage abuse.
Disruptions to operations can come in several forms. Employers that do not provide parents the opportunity to care for their sick children can find that they permanently lose skilled employees, are unable to recruit highly qualified workers, and suffer a loss to workplace morale, all of which can create serious disruptions. Moreover, evidence is accumulating that employees who continue to work but are distracted by personal issues may create productivity losses of their own (“presenteeism” as opposed to “absenteeism”) that may reduce some of the benefit to employers of preventing parent absences in the first place.55 In this context, employers have some incentive to accommodate parent absences, assuming that employers can find ways to protect themselves from productivity loss or its financial consequences.