FMLA Administration: 4 Basic Steps

FMLA Administration: 4 Basic Steps

In general, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is applicable when an employee needs time off to attend to family or medical needs.  It requires certain employers with fifty (50) or more employees within a 75-mile radius to provide eligible employees with up to twelve (12) weeks of unpaid annual leave while maintaining their group health benefits.

FMLA applies only to employees who have worked 1,250 hours over the last 12 months and who need time off to attend to their own or a family member’s serious health condition, for the birth of a child, or to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child. The law also includes military family leave provisions.  Upon his/her return to work, an employee must be reinstated to a same or a similar position.

When it comes to the FMLA, a company should take these four actions:

  1. Follow Written Policies

The government requires organizations to follow the FMLA as soon as they reach specified thresholds involving headcount, location and other factors.  Besides being exposed to regulatory or legal action, employers who don’t follow the rules could be on the hook for a hefty damage award including back wages, interest and penalties.

To avoid exposure, an employer should develop written policies and have the proper forms available.  Doing so will help the employer be consistent in how it notifies employees of their rights, obtains information from health care providers and determines whether the FMLA applies in particular situations.  Also, an employer should be proactive about informing employees of their rights.

  1. Watch Out for Special Circumstances

On the surface, the FMLA may seem straightforward.  However, it contains a number of nuances that can trip up practitioners.

As an example, FMLA’s provision for military caregiver leave.  Under the provision, employees attending to certain relatives who sustained injuries during military service can receive up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period.

  1. Understand What’s Covered … and What’s Not

Because the FMLA doesn’t apply to every instance of family or medical leave, it’s critical to understand eligibility issues and follow mandated processes.  Legalities aside, employees are sure to ask questions about your policies’ direct impact on them.

Many employers confuse the FMLA with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. That, too, can lead to incorrect applications.  The FMLA is an employee leave law, while the ADA is an anti-discrimination law.  Moreover, the ability to take ADA leave for a definite period beyond FMLA leave may be required, and state leave laws may provide even more rights to employees.

  1. Pay Attention to Paperwork

Some employers may allow employees to take FMLA leave but fail to maintain the paperwork required to support each case.  This can cause problems if complications or disagreements arise.

Failing to follow the FMLA’s requirements can result in employee claims with the Department of Labor and/or federal lawsuits.  In addition, when employers don’t apply policies correctly, workers may get more time off than they’re entitled to.  That, in turn, can lead to business issues (such as understaffing or lost productivity) or the resentment of other employees.

Pay special attention to intermittent leave, which occurs when employees take off blocks of time separated by periods of work.  For example, a parent may be out of the office on a Tuesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon in order to care for a child with a chronic condition.  In addition, an employee may work part time so she can receive specialized medical treatment.

The key to handling such situations is to know the law and address these situations consistently.