The Family and Medical Leave Act, like many federal policies, can be complicated. But its implications have high stakes: employers who handle FMLA incorrectly risk lawsuits and fines of up to $10,000.
“(FMLA) affords an eligible employee up to 12 weeks of leave from work in a 12-month period for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job,” writes Eric B. Meyer for EreMedia.
In order to protect your company from violations and lawsuits, here are three things you should remember when considering FMLA.
Know Your Rights – and Your Employees’ Rights
FMLA can be used to provide needed time off during times of personal or family-related health issues. Employers should make sure they understand the law and their obligations. For example, employers should know they can ask for more information about requested leave.
Employers should seek clarity on more complicated issues, too. For example, the Department of Labor recently offered guidance about how joint employers should handle leave. By knowing what’s allowed, you’ll be able to make sure your company follows the law while preventing abuse.
Check Your Policy
A strong written policy and specific procedures can help your company protect itself. Many employers know they need a written policy but fail to use it strategically, writes Carmen N. Couden for Labor & Employment Law Perspectives. She recommends everything from requiring written notice from employees requesting time off to requiring them to comply with the company’s required absence policy when using leave.
Make sure your policy includes details about the 12-month period during which FMLA leave is calculated. The law includes several options, but Jeff Nowak, writing for FMLA Insights, recommends a rolling method. Notably, the Illinois Department of Corrections failed to do so, resulting in a court win for a terminated employee.
Make sure your employees know where to find your policy and how they’re expected to give notification and certification for FMLA leave. This will ease confusion. Written communication can also help safeguard an employer in case of a lawsuit. For example, an employee terminated for leaving a shift sued her employer, Christian Schappel writes for HR Morning.
The hospital suggested the employee, named Jodi Lasher, use FMLA for time off when she had migraines. It also asked her to provide notice that she was using leave, even if it happened during a shift she was already working. The hospital was able to prove in court it “had a track record of approving Lasher’s prior leave requests without fail,” Schappel writes. “Plus, the hospital itself was the one to suggest Lasher apply for FMLA leave in the first place. Both of those elements gave Lasher a pretty steep hill to climb to prove that the hospital intended to interfere with her FMLA rights.”