What’s your FMLA rules IQ? Although nearly everyone has a passing familiarity with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), misinformation abounds—and little mistakes can create big repercussions for unwary employers.
This labor law was enacted in 1993, with the goal of helping employees balance job responsibilities with family and health demands. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a full 13% of U.S. employees took FMLA leave in the past 12 months.
That’s significant. Even more so, the average cost of defending an FMLA lawsuit is $78,000, according to the EEOC. Should an employer be found guilty of wrongful termination in an FMLA case, the damages typically total hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That’s why HR professionals and field managers should have a good working knowledge of FMLA rules, including these six key FAQs.
1. How Do Employees Qualify for FMLA Eligibility?
To meet FMLA eligibility requirements, employees must:
- Be employed by an FMLA-covered employer (in the private sector, this means one who employs at least 50 workers).
- Have worked for that employer for at least 12 months.
- Have logged at least 1,250 hours with that employer during the 12 months before leave begins.
- Work at a location where at least 50 employees are working (within 75 miles of the worksite).
2. What Are Employers Required to Give Employees Taking FMLA Leave?
Employers are required to give employees with FMLA eligibility up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave (in a 12-month period) for qualified family and medical reasons. They’re also required to post notifications explaining FMLA provisions to employees.
Employers are not required to pay employees taking FMLA leave, but those that offer voluntary paid FMLA benefits may be eligible for paid leave tax credits.
What Situations Are Covered under FMLA Labor Laws?
According to labor law, FMLA leave applies to these “qualifying reasons:”
- The birth of a child, within one year of birth.
- The adoption or foster care placement of a child, within one year of adoption/placement.
- A serious health condition that makes an employee unable to do his/her job.
- To care for an employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition.
- Any qualifying exigency due to an employee’s spouse, child or parent being on active military duty or called to active duty status.
- To care for a service member with a serious injury or illness who is an employee’s spouse, child, parent or next of kin. (In this case, eligible employees may take up to 26 work weeks of FMLA leave.)
What Is a “Serious Health Condition” Under FMLA Rules?
Under FMLA labor laws, a “serious health condition” is defined as:
- A condition requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or medical facility.
- A condition that incapacitates an employee or covered family member for more than three consecutive days and requires ongoing medical treatment.
- A chronic condition that causes occasional periods when an employee or covered family member is incapacitated and requires treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year.
- A pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness and medically-required bed rest).
How Does Intermittent FMLA Work?
Intermittent FMLA allows employees to take FMLA leave for the same qualifying reason over separate blocks of time or through a reduced work schedule when deemed medically necessary.
Employees needing intermittent FMLA leave in order to receive recurring medical treatments are required to work with employers so as not disrupt company operations, with their medical provider’s approval. Employers may temporarily transfer an employee to an alternative job—with equivalent pay and benefits—to better accommodate recurring FMLA leave.
Is It Ever Legal to Fire an Employee on FMLA?
Employers can’t legally fire employees for taking FMLA leave; however, recent court cases have indicated employers do have the right to terminate employees on FMLA leave for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.
For example, if an employer can provide evidence that an employee would have been terminated due of poor performance pre-dating the leave, that employer would most likely be found compliant with FMLA labor laws. Similarly, an employer can safely layoff an employee on FMLA leave, provided it can prove the employee was chosen for non-related reasons.
Staying Compliant with FMLA Labor Laws
In order to stay on the right side of FMLA rules, employers should make sure their frontline managers are well versed in how they work. After all, they—not the HR staff—are typically the first to respond to employee leave requests and notifications. A little upfront training can spare the company future headaches and legal disputes.
In addition, because the burden of proof will fall on the employer, companies should have a foolproof process in place for documenting FMLA occurrences.
EPAY’s integrated HR software can help. Our system makes it easy to identify FMLA eligibility, track intermittent FMLA usage and create links to government forms. We help HR stay on top of key dates and send email reminders to employees as needed.
This is just one way we help employers maintain compliance with labor laws while simplifying daily HR administration. Up your game: take two minutes to learn more.