Accuracy on Leave from ABC

Accuracy on Leave from ABC
Network paints business-law reformers as eager to take parents away from sick kids.

by  Megan Alvarez
July 11, 2005

     Small businesses and the Bush administration are not teaming up to take away a mothers right to care for her sick child, but that was what ABC conveyed in a report on the July 9, 2005, World News Tonight.

     ABC anchor Dan Harris opened the report on possible reforms to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) saying, this mother is worried about what the Bush administration might do to a law that lets Americans take time off when a family member gets sick. Harris pointed out that the act, passed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or sick family member.

    Reporter Gigi Stone centered the story on Regina Ice, a single mother whose daughter, Maddie, had leukemia. Stone reported, Regina is a working single mother. The only small consolation for her in this ordeal is that she's been able to be at Maddie's side every step of the way, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act. Now a battle is brewing over whether to change the law. That would affect millions of families, like the Ices.

     Implying that the government would take away Ices leave needed to take care of her seriously ill daughter protected under FMLA, Stone said, Regina Ice says changes to the law could be devastating. Ice was then shown saying, I would have to make a decision of whether to work or take care of my child. And nobody should make that decision.

     Deborah Ness, from the National Partnership for Women and Families, added to the report, The last thing we need is to be rolling back protections. According to its Web site, Nesss organization opposes privatization of Social Security and supports abortion and stem cell research, though she was not labeled as a liberal advocate.

     Contrary to what this report would have viewers believe, neither the president nor small businesses are proposing to take away Ices ability to care for her child. They are not rolling back protections, but rather many groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Airlines, and Hallmark Cards, are seeking reform to clarify the protections intended in the first place. Their concern is workers exploiting the act, which leads to lost productivity. Thus, for ABC to frame the story in the tragic light of Ices situation was misleading.

     Stone even reported on the reasons for reform. Michael Eastman from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was featured on the report saying, Unfortunately, there's a small but significant amount of employees who have figured out how to use the regulations as a shield for chronic attendance or tardiness problems. Stone then went on to say, Businesses estimate abuses created by the law costs them $20 billion a year. That's why they're calling for a stricter definition of what constitutes a serious health condition under the act.

     Other problems that have been identified with the FMLA are found in the Congressional Record. Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.) said of the FMLA on the House floor on May 19, 2000, problems include: the administrative burden of allowing leave to be taken in increments of as little as six minutes; the additional burdens from overly broad and confusing regulations of the FMLA, not the least of which is the Department of Labor's ever-expanding definition of serious health condition; and inequities stemming from employers with generous leave policies in effect being penalized under the FMLA for having those policies.

     These problems hurt businesses in a number of ways. One example as presented before the House subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs on Nov. 17, 2004, by Nancy McKeague, senior vice president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, is when employees use the FMLA for chronic health problems like migraines or asthma. With certification of a health problem, like asthma, the employer must provide the employee with intermittent leave whenever the condition flares up the employer is not allowed to require an employee to verify that the absences were indeed caused by the chronic condition.

     ABC would have done its viewers a service by reporting on the many problems the FMLA creates for employers rather than using a tragic situation to raise unsubstantiated fears.