Employers push for changes to FMLA law in state budget

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A coalition of business and government groups is pushing for changes to the state’s family and medical leave law.

The measure would nearly wipe out Wisconsin’s law in favor of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, with employers saying differences between the two create confusion.

The two versions of FMLA have co-existed since 1993, when the federal law was passed. Wisconsin passed a law first in 1988, which parental rights groups say is better for employees.

The motion being pushed at the Capitol by groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities would allow employers to abide only by federal FMLA when it comes to time off for caring for a baby or a loved one.

“Mainly because it’s a confusing administrative nightmare really to try and figure out which law applies when,” said Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. “It can result in some misunderstandings with employees, confusion and maybe even litigation.”

But Beth Miller of the South-Central Federation of Labor and 9 to 5 Wisconsin said the differences between the two laws could make a difference to families.

Wisconsin’s law offers leave to more part-time workers, to those taking care of an in-law or domestic partner, the ability to apply or not apply sick or vacation time to leave, and the ability to take intermittent leave for a birth or adoption.

“Employers have managed to cope with this for over 20 years,” Miller said. “The laws have co-existed for two decades and I haven’t heard complaints from anyone except Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.”

Molly Williams, of Madison, who just went back to work after 12 weeks of FMLA leave, said she was surprised to hear the changes were being considered.

“I’d like to know why,” Williams said. “I don’t know enough about the history of why they’re taking this away, but I think they need to look at women’s rights and the importance of family.”

Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, tells News 3 that he is personally supportive of the measure, but thinks it may be “too controversial” to get the votes on the committee this session.

The committee is expected to finish its work on the budget in the next few weeks.