Family Medical Leave Act on Employee Rights.

Understanding Employee Rights: What is FMLA?

In 1992, if you asked the average employee what is FMLA and how does it work? you likely would have gotten a blank stare. At that point it was still a bill, having only penetrated the consciousness of political pundits, labor advocates, and human resources professionals – and as debate shaped its final form, even those paying close attention might have asked themselves the same question. But by the following year, employees of public and private across the United States celebrated a piece of landmark legislation, commonly known as FMLA. Since then, FMLA has been the focus of countless trainings, seminars, employee questions, grievances, arbitrations, and court cases. But exactly what is FMLA and how does it work?

What is FMLA?

FMLA is shorthand for the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, a bill that was signed into law on February 5 of that year, and took effect on August 5th – six months later. The bill, initially introduced by William D. Ford (D-MI) was a major initiative of then-President Bill Clinton’s administration. He sought to ensure that working families are able to take unpaid medical leave for qualifying leave.

What is FMLA and how does it work?

You may have asked the question, “What is FMLA leave and how does it work?” or heard your colleagues ask the same thing. In short, the employee places a leave request with their employer for up to 12 weeks. The employer notifies the employee of their eligibility for FMLA, and rights and responsibilities under the Act. The employer further provides a form for the employee to have filled out by a third-party professional certifying their requested FMLA leave. For example, FMLA forms would be given by an employee to their doctor to verify that the requested leave is, in the doctor’s professional medical opinion, necessary. The employer then sends a final approval or denial, all within time frames set forth within the Act.

Qualifying medical leave can include emergency conditions like heart attacks and strokes; or complications from surgeries or pregnancies. In many cases prior to 1993, those who required more medical leave than they had allotted in sick leave would be physically incapable of performing the work required by their employer in the wake of their condition for a short period of time. Often, the employer would terminate the employee, for not returning to work and replace them with a new hire. This would leave the sick employee burdened with medical expenses without a job and income. As many lower class, lower middle class, and even middle class families lived paycheck-to-paycheck, this one-two blow could easily tip them into poverty. Protecting workers is one of the key characteristics that define FMLA.

FMLA also guarantees unpaid leave for employees who need to take care of ailing relatives. Often, workers find themselves providing living assistance to parents who have developed ailments related to old age, such as arthritis or Alzheimer, and who cannot live on their own. These types of debilitating diseases usually rob the patients who suffer them of the ability to work. Therefore, their adult children sometimes foot the bill. The Act ensures that these workers have a job to return to after they make arrangements to take care of their loved ones. Without such legislation, workers without employment or sufficient financial resources might find themselves in poverty and seeking public assistance.
FMLA further covers employee absences due to adoptions, pregnancy, family military leave, or foster care placement of children. These occurrences are usually times of great stress. The Act ensures that employees not only have a job when they return from taking care of the physical requirements of qualifying leave, but have the time to recuperate emotionally as well.

“If I had to define FMLA, I would define FMLA as a blessing,” says Larika Jones, a resident of Pennsylvania. “FMLA allowed me to spend an appropriate amount of time bonding with my newborn children, before I had to return to work. I would posit that if you asked any mother, ‘What is FMLA,’ they would define FMLA in the same way.”

So what is FMLA? In short, the Act ensures that workers in their most vulnerable hours do not find themselves jobless.

You may never have to request FMLA, but if you find yourself having forgotten what FMLA covers by the time you need to request leave, hopefully, you can ask your human resource representative, “What is FMLA and how does it work?” The landmark legislation is administered and enforced by the Hour and Wage Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. More information, in the form of multilingual FMLA fact sheets (that cover the basics, what is FMLA and how does it work? and more), and the text of the Act itself, is available on their website. And explanations of the act is probably available in your company’s human resources department.

FMLA for Human Resources Professionals.

You can define FMLA as more than just a blessing for workers. It is a federal law – violations of which can be extremely costly. Firms, whose managers have violated the law, spend considerable time and expenses in litigation and reputation management.

Qcera, a leading FMLA and absence management solutions provider, has developed software that helps employers manage FMLA leaves. But beyond the software is our solutions orientation. We don’t just define FMLA as a set of algorithms and code. We make sure that you have the tools you need to remain in compliance with provisions of the Act. The training our staff provides deepens the understanding of your human resources staff about FMLA from “What is FMLA and how does it work?”, to deeper conversations about best practices for leave management. And it’s critical to make sure that your own human resources employees are not the ones asking themselves, quietly, “What is FMLA and how does it work?” For more information and to request a demo, visit our Contact page today.