Passed in 1993 by a newly-elected President Bill Clinton, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has provided workers the chance to take unpaid time away from their job to look after their own serious medical situation or that of a family member.
Companies looking to educate their workforce should consider putting together an “FMLA fact sheet” to be circulated in with company literature.
Who is Eligible and How Long is FMLA Leave?
Any FMLA fact sheet should start by describing exactly who is eligible. FMLA applies to all public institutions, including state governments, regional governments, and education agencies such as public schools. In the private sector, FMLA will also be relevant to employers with 50 workers who all live within 75 miles of the worksite, who have worked 20 or more weeks in the present or previous calendar year.
An eligible worker is one who is employed by a "covered" company and has worked for 12 months or more. To be eligible, an employee needs to have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the last 12 months. That worker is also mandated to have worked in the United States or in any territory of the United States.
Applying for Leave
An FMLA fact sheet should also describe how employees should apply for leave. Generally speaking, when the need for leave is known ahead of time, a worker must supply the company with a minimum of 30 days notice or the maximum amount of notice as possible. Anticipated events would include scheduled surgery or birth of a child.
A company may require medical validation of a severe health condition from the worker's medical doctor, periodic reports of the worker's status, and intent to return to work. In addition, the company can ask for the worker to supply a fitness-for-duty validation prior to going back to work.
Workers may take FMLA in the shape of a decreased work schedule or intermittently. Intermittent leave is not mandated under FMLA, but reasonable requests should be honored. Managers and department heads may decide to grant such a request to assist a worker in dealing with their reason for the leave.
Some states have separate family leave statutes whose polices may differ from the standard FMLA. Employers are directed to comply with the more helpful provision.
A sheet on FMLA facts should also note that if a worker originally used sick leave or some other paid leave for their absence – they cannot invoke FMLA leave afterwards. However, if a worker is physically or mentally not capable of invoking entitlement to FMLA leave during the entire period they are absent from work for an FMLA-qualifying reason, a worker can retroactively invoke FMLA leave, with sufficient documentation for their supervisor. Request for this retroactive leave must take place within two workdays after going back to work.
A company can pay for a second medical opinion, from an outside medical doctor, if they have questions around the original opinion. If the two opinions disagree, a third and binding opinion may be paid for by the company. Additionally, a follow up validation may also be necessary for long-term leave under FMLA.
Once FMLA Leave Begins
An FMLA fact sheet should also include information on what happens when leave starts. The FMLA conditions start once the worker first goes on leave. While the FMLA requires that a company keeps a job open while the worker is gone, FMLA leave is unpaid. Under most situations, a worker may elect or the company may necessitate the use of any accumulated paid leave, such as sick or vacation time.
If the worker has health insurance coverage under the employer's group health plan, the company is mandated to preserve coverage for the length of the FMLA leave. If applicable, preparations will need to be made for workers to cover their share of health insurance premiums during FMLA leave. The company cannot demand pre-payment.
FMLA facts dictate that if a worker does not satisfy the arranged date for payment of the premium, they have a 30-day grace period when provision of health coverage won't be affected. If coverage drops for nonpayment of premium coverage or if the worker chooses not to keep the worker's group health care benefits while on leave, the health care benefits must be completely restored upon return without constraints.
The law mandates that when the worker returns from FMLA leave, they are eligible for the same or an equal job, defined as one with the same pay, benefits, and working conditions. Taking leave will not produce the loss of employment benefits accumulated before the date that the leave commences. FMLA does not entitle a worker to continue to keep accruing seniority or other benefits while on leave. However, the worker must be returned to the same status, as if the leave never took place.
A worker may have to report occasionally on their status and intentions to return to work. Workers who want to come back may have to offer medical validation that they're in good condition and able to perform their job duties.
Coming Back from FMLA Leave
Finally, an FMLA fact sheet should describe what will happen when a worker is looking to come back to work. If a worker makes use of all 12 weeks of FMLA leave time, they have no more time within that rolling 12-month period. This applies to using FMLA for the birth of a child – as well as the adoption or foster care placement of a young child. The use of FMLA for those functions has to occur within 12 months of the arrival or placement.
If an employee doesn’t utilize all 12 months, the exact amount of FMLA hours used is subtracted, and the rest is still accessible for any future needs during the same 12-month period, starting from the very first day a worker used unpaid leave.
Incidentally, holidays and non-workdays that occur while a worker is on FMLA leave do not count and are not deducted from the overall FMLA leave time.
Companies looking to put together a sheet of FMLA facts need a reliable resource and Qcera has a range of software and web-based tool that provide regularly-updated information. Each of these products is back by full service from the company.