FMLA: Compliance and Education

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees access to up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Employees can use this leave in cases of serious health conditions for themselves, their spouse or children, adoption/foster care placement, the birth of a child, or for any qualifying exigency that could arise out of a child, spouse, or parent’s active-duty military service. While you may generally understand what FMLA is and how employees can use it, the key to successful compliance is in the education you provide to our employees and how the policy is implemented to ensure FMLA is correctly used and given.

Any organization operating in the private sector with 50 or more employees is required to offer FMLA to its employees. In addition, public agencies and schools are required to comply, regardless of the number of individuals they employ. Compliance ranges from posting notice explaining FMLA and providing information in the employee handbook, to ensuring any employee using FMLA is using it for a qualifying reason.

Ensuring employee understanding and organizational compliance with FMLA begins with the creation of policy and procedure. Your organization should have clear policy, outlining how an employee can utilize FMLA and what the appropriate steps are to inform and work with management on receiving leave under FMLA. According to the law, employers must offer up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, but employers can offer additional leave in these situations; this can provide additional support to new parents, employees with ill family members, and those working through their own health issues.

Whether you choose to offer additional leave or stick to the required twelve weeks, this should be clearly outlined in your policy, as should the requirements for taking advantage of leave offered through FMLA. Be specific about the time-table for utilizing FMLA; the law states that it is twelve weeks in a twelve-month period, but allows your organization to decide if that is a calendar year, if that date starts when the employee first begins their FMLA, or if it is measured from the end of the time the employee has utilized FMLA. Your organization’s policy should be clear on this point, ensuring employees understand when and how to appropriately use FMLA.

Work with employees to ensure they are using FMLA appropriately. Have a process in place that allows them to request leave and your team to review their request, ensuring there is no violation of FMLA. Your team should understand the state and federal FMLA laws, as well as your organization’s, leave policy and how FMLA works in conjunction with paid leave. In addition, ensure that all policies surrounding the return of an employee comply with the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) and the FMLA standard of holding the position. This can be particularly poignant when an employee leaves for a physical ailment or disability. While they can be expected to be able to do all aspects of the job, your organization should be prepared to change accommodations to reasonably accommodate any potentially new disability or health condition in line with the ADA.

The last step to ensuring your organization’s compliance with FMLA is to educate yourself on state and local legislation surrounding FMLA. While the federal FMLA guidelines apply to every organization with 50 or more employees (and any public organization or school), state and local laws may narrow this requirement and/or build additional requirements for organizations in line with FMLA. As always, it is important to educate your team to make sure your organization and your team are fully in compliance with all legislation.

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