Employee Family-Oriented Benefits - USA

The composition of families in the United States has changed significantly in the past few decades. The number of traditional families, in which the man went to work and the woman stayed home to raise children, has declined significantly, while the percentage of two-worker families has more than doubled. The growth in dual-career couples, single-parent households, and increasing work demands on many workers has accelerated the emphasis employers are placing on family-oriented benefits. Balancing family and work demands is a major challenge facing many workers at all levels of organizations. To provide assistance, employers have established a variety of family-oriented benefits.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a United States federal law requiring larger employers to provide employees job-protected unpaid leave due to a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his or her job, or to care for a sick family member, or to care for a new child (including by birth, adoption or foster care). The FMLA is administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor.

Benefits for Employees Mandated by the Law

To qualify for the FMLA mandate, a worker must be employed by a business with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of his or her worksite, or a public agency, including schools and state, local, and federal employers (the 50-employee threshold does not apply to public agency employees and local educational agencies).

He or she must also have worked for that employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutive) and 1,250 hours within the last 12 months. The FMLA mandates unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks a year:

    • to care for a new child, whether for the birth of a son or daughter, or for the adoption or placement of a child in foster care;

    • to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, son, daughter, or parent);

    • to recover from a worker’s own serious illness;

    • to care for an injured service member in the family; or

    • to address qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member’s deployment.

The FMLA further requires employers to provide for eligible workers:

    • The same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions to premiums, that would exist if the employee were not on leave.

    • Restoration to the same position upon return to work. If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.

    • Protection of employee benefits while on leave. An employee is entitled to reinstatement of all benefits to which the employee was entitled before going on leave.

    • Protection of the employee to not have their rights under the Act interfered with or denied by an employer.

    • Protection of the employee from retaliation by an employer for exercising rights under the Act.

Non-eligible workers and types of leave

The federal FMLA does not apply to:

    • workers in businesses with fewer than 50 employees (this threshold does not apply to public agency employers and local educational agencies);

    • part-time workers who have worked fewer than 1,250 hours within the 12 months preceding the leave and a paid vacation;

    • workers who need time off to care for seriously ill elderly relatives (other than parents) or pets;

    • workers who need time off to recover from short-term or common illness like a cold, or to care for a family member with a short-term illness; and

    • workers who need time off for routine medical care, such as check-ups.

Family-Care Benefits

The growing emphasis on family issues is important in many organizations for many workers. But as the HR Perspective indicates, those employees without families are feeling some resentment against those who seem to get special privileges because they have families.


Many employers have had maternity and paternity benefits for employees who give birth to children. In the interest of fairness, a growing number of organizations provide benefits for employees who adopt children. In comparison to those giving birth, a relatively small number of employees adopt children, but there is a fairness issue that employers have addressed by providing adoption benefits. For example, Microsoft gives a $5,000 cash benefit and four weeks of paid leave to employees who adopt children. Wendy’s provides $4,000 cash payments to cover adoption expenses and up to six weeks of paid leave for employee adoptions.


Balancing work and family responsibilities is a major challenge for many workers. Whether single parents or dual-career couples, these employee soften experience difficulty in obtaining high-quality, affordable child care. Employers are addressing the child-care issue in several ways. Some organizations provide on-site day-care facilities. Relatively few such facilities have been established, primarily because of costs and concerns about liability and attracting sufficient employee use. However for a number of firms, providing on-site child care has had a positive impact on employees who use the service. Having on-site child care also has been an advantage in recruiting workers in tight labour markets.

Other options for child-care assistance include:

    • Providing referral services to aid parents in locating child-care providers

    • Establishing discounts at day-care centres, which may be subsidized by the employer Arranging with hospitals to offer sick-child programs partially paid for by the employer

    • Developing after-school programs for older school-age children, often in conjunction with local public and private school systems


Another family-related issue of growing importance is caring for elderly relatives. Various organizations have surveyed their employees and found that as many as 30% of them have had to miss work to care for an aging relative. The responsibilities associated with caring for elderly family members have resulted in reduced work performance, increased absenteeism, and more personal stress for the affected employees.

One study estimated that lost productivity and absenteeism by workers caring for elders costs employers at least $29 billion per year.26 Some responses by employers have included conducting needs surveys, providing resources, and giving referrals to elder-care providers. Some employers provide eldercare assistance through contracts with firms that arrange for elder care for employee’s relatives located in other geographic locales.