The Family Medical Leave Act, or the ?FMLA?, was signed into law in 1993 to provide unpaid time off from work for employees for certain family and medical reasons while providing job protection. The FMLA was designed with three primary goals: 1) assist employees in balancing workplace demands with family needs; 2) promote economic security for families; and 3) support national interests in protecting the family unit. The FMLA specifically defines which employees are covered under the law to be eligible for leave and provides for the maintenance of health benefits and job re-instatement after a return from leave.
Who is covered by FMLA?
Employers are subject to the FMLA, or ?covered?, if they have 50 or more employees on the payroll and involved in the business for a period of 20 or more weeks in the current or previous calendar year. Public agencies, regardless of the number of employees, are also subject to the FMLA.
Employees are eligible to take leave under the FMLA if they have worked at least 1,250 hours for an employer subject to the FMLA. Employees must also work at least one year at a job site where at least 50 employees of the same employer work within 75 miles.
What family and medical reasons qualify under FMLA?
A covered employer must grant FMLA benefits to an eligible employee for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period for the following purpose:
- Pregnancy, prenatal medical care or childbirth-related incident
- A severe health condition that makes the employee incapable of performing his or her job
- To care for the employee?s child after birth, or placement for adoption or foster care
- To care for the employee?s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
The FMLA provides additional leave entitlement for eligible employees to take up to 26 weeks of leave in a single twelve-month period to care for a family member who is a covered Armed Forces member. For example, an eligible employee who has a family member that is on active duty military that is severely injured in combat and undergoes extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation can rely on FMLA leave to be with the service member.
What happens when an employee returns from leave?
Upon return from FMLA leave, the employee must be reinstated to his or her original position with equivalent pay, benefits and other employment terms.
Complications and Issues Implementing FMLA
Because employees are not required to specifically cite FMLA in requests for leave, the burden of establishing whether FMLA leave is in use often falls to the employer. To avoid misuse and abuse of FMLA in their business, employers should establish common practices to ease the burden of FMLA compliance. Employers must learn the reason employees are absent or request leave. Additionally, employers should identify patterns of absenteeism to determine if there are ongoing or recurrent health issues that may fall within FMLA coverage. The employer can establish policies for all absences, including notification and reporting requirements, which can apply to FMLA leave requests as well. Determining the necessity of a leave of absence is critical in determining whether an employee?s absence qualifies as FMLA leave. If, for example, an employee calls in and reports simply that ?I?m feeling ill today,? the call does not prompt FMLA requirements, and the employer can simply implement normal attendance policy requirements for such an absence.
FMLA compliance can be overwhelming for employers to manage and misunderstood by both employers and employees alike. Noncompliance can be costly and employees unfamiliar with FMLA entitlement may sacrifice available options when they need a qualifying leave of absence. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many states provide greater family or medical leave protection than the FMLA and the FMLA does not relieve an employer from obligation to provide more generous leave rights and protections under a collective bargaining agreement or established employee benefit plans.
SMART TIP: If you are an employer in need of managing FMLA compliance or implementation, or an employee that believes you have been wrongfully denied FMLA or suffered negative employment consequences for utilizing FMLA leave, we encourage you to consult with legal counsel.