FMLA leave more popular among radiology practices in 2016 than 2015, though not by much

More radiology practices reported that one of their radiologists utilized the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 2016 than 2015, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology. The authors noted, however, that the bump was not statistically significant.

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take “unpaid, job-protected leave” for 12 weeks in a 12-month period to care for a newborn or adopted child, due to a personal serious health issue, to care for a spouse, parent or child going through a serious health issue or other qualified reasons.  

“The purpose of this study was to assess FMLA utilization rates in radiology practices across the United States in 2016 and compare them with 2015 utilization rates,” wrote lead author Elizabeth K. Arleo, MD, department of radiology at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, and colleagues. “Our hypothesis was that there would be no significant interval change from 1 year to the next; however, we believe that these results might further support the need for a continued conversation regarding FMLA utilization in the radiology workforce.”

The authors studied survey responses from 346 U.S. radiology practice leaders. Surveys were completed in 2017, based on 2016 experiences. Overall, 23 percent of practice leaders said at least one of their radiologists had taken FMLA leave in 2016. That number was 15 percent in 2015.

The top two reasons for FMLA leave—taking care of a newborn or adopted child, going through a serious personal health issue—were the same in both 2016 and 2015. In 2016, 72 percent of radiologists taking FMLA leave due to a newborn or adopted child were women. Meanwhile, 63 percent of radiologists taking FMLA leave for a serious personal health issue were men.

Arleo and colleagues noted that one of their primary reasons for studying this issue was “to inform both men and women that they may be entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child.”

“It may or may not be desirable for male and female radiologists to take newborn or adopted child leave at equal rates; the decision about how to handle the care of a newborn or adopted child is a personal one for each family,” the authors wrote. “With the physical recovery time needed after childbirth as well as the emphasis placed on exclusive breast feeding, there are inherently more demands placed on female parents than male parents that must be acknowledged. Additionally, women are at risk for postpartum ailments, such as depression or rebound autoimmune disease, that also could lengthen the amount of time away from work after childbirth. Although these issues may not directly affect men, they should be aware of their rights and the rights of their partners to take appropriate leave when needed.”

Though the difference in radiologist utilization from 2015 to 2016 was relatively minor, Arleo et al. explained that studying these statistics remains important for the specialty going forward.

“Although data collection needs to continue to get a long-term picture of trends, given the relative consistency of the results, practice group leaders could use this information to proactively make plans for FMLA coverage,” the authors wrote. “Because FMLA leave may be taken not only to care for a newborn or adopted child but also for a serious health condition (either personal or involving an immediate family member), it is pertinent to both male and female radiologists in the workforce.”