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Employment Practices Toolkit

Family and Medical Leave Act Overview

Coverage and eligibility

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave a year, and requires group health benefits to be maintained during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave. Employees are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave.

The FMLA also provides certain military family leave entitlements. Eligible employees may take FMLA leave for specified reasons related to certain military deployments of their family members. Additionally, they may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

Employer Coverage

The FMLA applies to all private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.  Depending on the circumstances, temporary employees may need to be included to determine whether the 50 employee threshold has been met.

Employee Eligibility

In order to be eligible to take leave under the FMLA, an employee must:

  • Work for a covered employer;
  • Have worked 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave (The 1,250 hours include only those hours actually worked for the employer. Paid leave and unpaid leave, including FMLA leave, are not included);
  • Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles; and
  • Have worked for the employer for 12 months. The 12 months of employment are not required to be consecutive in order for the employee to qualify for FMLA leave. In general, only employment within seven years is counted unless the break in service is (1) due to an employee’s fulfillment of military obligations, or (2) governed by a collective bargaining agreement or other written agreement.

 

Unpaid leave and qualifying conditions

Unpaid Leave

The FMLA only requires unpaid leave. However, the law permits an employee to elect, or the employer to require the employee, to use accrued paid vacation leave, paid sick or family leave for some or all of the FMLA leave period. An employee must follow the employer’s normal leave rules in order to substitute paid leave. When paid leave is used for an FMLA-covered reason, the leave is FMLA-protected.

Qualifying Conditions

A covered employer must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12 month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • For the birth of a son or daughter, and to bond with the newborn child;
  • For the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care, and to bond with that child;
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent – but not a parent “in-law”) with a serious health condition;
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition; or
  • For qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces.

The FMLA also allows eligible employees to take up to 26 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a “single 12-month period” to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.

Leave schedule and health conditions

Intermittent/Reduced Leave Schedule

When it is medically necessary, employees may take FMLA leave intermittently – taking leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason – or on a reduced leave schedule – reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule. When leave is needed for planned medical treatment, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the employer’s operation.

Leave to care for or bond with a newborn child or for a newly placed adopted or foster child may only be taken intermittently with the employer’s approval and must conclude within 12 months after the birth or placement.

Employees needing intermittent/reduced schedule leave for foreseeable medical treatments must work with their employers to schedule the leave so as not disrupt the employer’s operations, subject to the approval of the employee’s health care provider. In such cases, the employer may transfer the employee temporarily to an alternative job with equivalent pay and benefits that accommodate recurring periods of leave better than the employee’s regular job.

Serious Health Condition

The most common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA leave are:

  • Conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility;
  • Conditions that incapacitate you or your family member (for example, unable to work or attend school) for more than three consecutive days and have ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication);
  • Chronic conditions that cause occasional periods when you or your family member are incapacitated and require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year; and
  • Pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest).

Under the regulations, employees continue to be able to use FMLA leave for any period of incapacity or treatment due to a chronic serious health condition. The regulations continue to define a chronic serious health condition as one that (1) requires “periodic visits” for treatment by a health care provider or nurse under the supervision of the health care provider, (2) continues over an extended period of time, and (3) may cause episodic rather than continuing periods of incapacity. The regulations clarify this definition by defining “periodic visits” as at least twice a year.

Certification

An employer may require that the need for leave for a serious health condition of the employee or the employee’s immediate family member be supported by a certification issued by a health care provider. The employer must allow the employee at least 15 calendar days to obtain the medical certification.

The regulations allow recertification no more often than every 30 days in connection with an absence by the employee unless the condition will last for more than 30 days. For conditions that are certified as having a minimum duration of more than 30 days, the employer must wait to request a recertification until the specified period has passed, except that in all cases the employer may request recertification every six months in connection with an absence by the employee. The regulations also allow an employer to request recertification in less than 30 days if the employee requests an extension of leave, the circumstances described in the previous certification have changed significantly, or if the employer receives information that casts doubt upon the employee’s stated reason for the absence or the continuing validity of the certification.

Additionally, employers may request a new medical certification each leave year for medical conditions that last longer than one year. Such new medical certifications are subject to second and third opinions.

Job Restoration

On return from FMLA leave (whether after a block of leave or an instance of intermittent leave), the FMLA requires that the employer return the employee to the same job, or one that is nearly identical (equivalent).

If not returned to the same job, a nearly identical job must:

  • Offer the same shift or general work schedule, and be at a geographically proximate worksite (i.e., one that does not involve a significant increase in commuting time or distance);
  • Involve the same or substantially similar duties, responsibilities, and status;
  • Include the same general level of skill, effort, responsibility and authority;
  • Offer identical pay, including equivalent premium pay, overtime and bonus opportunities, profit-sharing, or other payments, and any unconditional pay increases that occurred during FMLA leave; and
  • Offer identical benefits (such as life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, sick leave, vacation, educational benefits, pensions, etc.).

Employee Notice

Employees seeking to use FMLA leave are required to provide 30-day advance notice of the need to take FMLA leave when the need is foreseeable and such notice is practicable. If leave is foreseeable less than 30 days in advance, the employee must provide notice as soon as practicable – generally, either the same or next business day. When the need for leave is not foreseeable, the employee must provide notice to the employer as soon as practicable under the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Absent unusual circumstances, employees must comply with the employer’s usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave.

Employees must provide sufficient information for an employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request. Depending on the situation, such information may include that the employee is incapacitated due to pregnancy, has been hospitalized overnight, is unable to perform the functions of the job, and/or that the employee or employee’s qualifying family member is under the continuing care of a health care provider.

When an employee seeks leave for a FMLA-qualifying reason for the first time, the employee need not expressly assert FMLA rights or even mention the FMLA. When an employee seeks leave, however, due to a FMLA-qualifying reason for which the employer has previously provided the employee FMLA-protected leave, the employee must specifically reference either the qualifying reason for the leave or the need for FMLA leave.

Employer Notice

Every employer covered by the FMLA is required to post and keep posted on its premises, in conspicuous places where employees are employed, a notice explaining the FMLA’s provisions and providing information concerning the procedures for filing complaints of violations of the FMLA with the Wage and Hour Division. An employer that willfully violates this posting requirement may be subject to a civil money penalty for each separate offense.  Additionally, employers must include this general notice in employee handbooks or other written guidance to employees concerning benefits, or, if no such materials exist, must distribute a copy of the notice to each new employee upon hiring.

When an employee requests FMLA leave or the employer acquires knowledge that leave may be for a FMLA purpose, the employer must notify the employee of his or her eligibility to take leave, and inform the employee of his or her rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. When the employer has enough information to determine that leave is being taken for a FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer must notify the employee that the leave is designated and will be counted as FMLA leave.

Absent extenuating circumstances, the regulations require an employer to notify an employee of whether the employee is eligible to take FMLA leave (and, if not, at least one reason why the employee is ineligible) within five business days of the employee requesting leave or the employer learning that an employee’s leave may be for a FMLA-qualifying reason.

At the same time an employer provides an employee notice of the employee’s eligibility to take FMLA leave, the employer must also notify the employee of the specific expectations and obligations associated with the leave. Among other information included in this notice, the employer must inform the employee whether the employee will be required to provide certification of the FMLA-qualifying reason for leave and the employee’s right to substitute paid leave (including any conditions related to such substitution, and the employee’s entitlement to unpaid FMLA leave if those conditions are not met). If the information included in the notice of rights and responsibilities changes, the employer must inform the employee of such changes within five business days of receipt of the employee’s first notice of the need for FMLA leave subsequent to any change. Employers are expected to responsively answer questions from employees concerning their rights and responsibilities.

Under the regulations, an employer must notify an employee whether leave will be designated as FMLA leave within five business days of learning that the leave is being taken for a FMLA-qualifying reason, absent extenuating circumstances. The designation notice must also state whether paid leave will be substituted for unpaid FMLA leave and whether the employer will require the employee to provide a fitness-for-duty certification to return to work (unless a handbook or other written document clearly provides that such certification will be required in specific circumstances, in which case the employer may provide oral notice of this requirement). Additionally, if the amount of leave needed is known, an employer must inform an employee of the number of hours, days or weeks that will be counted against the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement in the designation notice. Where it is not possible to provide the number of hours, days, or weeks that will be counted as FMLA leave in the designation notice (e.g., where the leave will be unscheduled), an employer must provide this information upon request by the employee, but no more often than every 30 days and only if leave was taken during that period.

State Law

Some states and cities have their own leave laws.  Employers must comply with those leave laws too.

Article created by Jackson Lewis and republished here with permission.

Disclaimer

The information provided in this resource does not constitute legal, medical or any other professional advice, nor does it establish a standard of care. This resource has been created as an aid to you in your practice. The ultimate decision on how to use the information provided rests solely with you, the PolicyOwner.