The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act is an on-going challenge for HR professionals. Because its rules are so complex, companies are vulnerable to FMLA abuse, exploitation, and miscomprehension. It takes only one confused or misinformed employee to cost a business tens of thousands of dollars in FMLA lawsuits. These B21 FMLA Training Tools will help you educate your entire team on what they must—and must not—do when it comes to the FMLA.

Created in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act offers employees up to 12 weeks of excused absence from their jobs every year. It was enacted to aid employees in balancing work and personal obligations, without having to choose between the two in times of crisis.

Employees qualify for FMLA leave when either they or a family member suffer from a “serious health condition.” The condition must either prevent the worker from performing his or her job, or require the worker to care for a family member. Employees can use FMLA for:

  1. Pregnancy, prenatal complications, or the adoption/fostering of a child
  2. Chronic conditions -- diabetes, epilepsy, etc
  3. Long-term conditions -- Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, etc
  4. Hospitalization
  5. A condition that requires ongoing treatment -- chemotherapy, dialysis, etc

The FMLA has many restrictions. Employees must have worked at their company for more than 12 months. They also must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.

Smaller employers are not required to provide FMLA leave to their employees. If a company employs fewer than 50 people within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite, the employee does not qualify for FMLA leave. This regulation was enacted to accommodate employers -- small companies would find it more difficult to send a replacement far away if a needed employee were to take leave.

The leave that FMLA regulations guarantee is unpaid. It is up to the employer to provide benefits and pay while an employee takes medical leave.

There are three different kinds of FMLA leave:

  1. Continuous FMLA leave: An employee is absent for more than three consecutive business days and has been treated by a doctor.
  2. Intermittent FMLA leave: An employee is taking time off in separate blocks due to a serious health condition that qualifies for FMLA. Intermittent leave can be in hourly, daily, or weekly increments. Intermittent FMLA is often taken when an employee needs ongoing treatment for their condition.
  3. Reduced schedule FMLA leave: An employee needs to reduce the amount of hours they work per day or per week, often to care for a family member or to reduce stress.

When they return from leave, FMLA guidelines require that companies return employees to their former position, assuming they are able to perform the essential functions of that position. If the employee is no longer able to perform his or her previous job, an alternative position with the same benefits, salary, and work hours must be provided to the disabled employee.

FMLA law states that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide the necessary FMLA paperwork to its employees if they express the need for leave. FMLA guidelines outline the forms legally needed to take FMLA leave, and most employers add their own additional paperwork or notification policies.

Employees must fill out two forms when they request family medical leave:

  1. The FMLA Medical Certification Form: The employee’s healthcare provider must complete a certification form in order to ensure the validity of the employee’s, or the employee’s immediate family members, serious health condition. The employee must return the certification within 15 calendar days of receiving the form.
  2. The FMLA Notification Form: An employer must provide this form to the employee within two days of a leave request.

New FMLA forms are required for each new condition and FMLA leave.

All FMLA forms and information about an employee’s FMLA leave and condition must be kept confidential and separate from other employee files. It is an FMLA violation for an employer to share information about an employee’s FMLA leave with other employees.