The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the federal law that comes into play when employees need to take time off to attend to personal or family medical needs. This seems like a simple concept, but many employers get lost in deciphering the details of FMLA. The high potential for pitfalls makes it difficult for employers to remain in compliance. When it comes to navigating employee leave of absences, the process can be simplified if you approach it with a step-by-step process. Below is an overview that can help you along the way.
Step 1: Determine eligibility
There are two questions that need to be answered here. Are you required under the law to provide FMLA as an employer? And is the employee eligible? As an employer, you are generally looking at two factors to determine eligibility.
- Do you employ 50 or more employees?
- Are the 50 plus employees working within a 75-mile radius of the worksite where the employee who has requested leave works?
If the answer to both those questions is yes, then you are in fact obligated to offer leave under the requirements of the FMLA.
The following requirements must be met for an employee to be eligible for leave, (assuming they work for an eligible company):
- They must have worked at least 12 months with a total of at least 1250 hours prior to the leave
- They must have a qualifying reason to take the leave
Step 2: Establish the qualifying reason
Qualifying reasons usually fall into one of the following categories:
- Personal serious medical condition
- Birth/placement and bonding with a child
- To care for a family member with a serious health condition
- Active duty/qualifying exigency leave
- To address certain qualifying exigencies relating to the military service of an employee’s family member
- To care for a family member who is a covered military service member (including a covered veteran) who has a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty
Step 3: Provide eligibility notice
As an employer, it is your responsibility to let the employee know whether they are eligible or ineligible for FMLA and must provide the employee with a rights and responsibilities notice in writing. This notice must be given within 5 business days of the time that the company learned of the employee’s potential eligibility for leave.
Step 4: Provide request for medical certification
If the reason for leave is due to a serious medical condition of an employee or an eligible family member, a medical certification is to be given to the employee at the same time as the rights and responsibility notice. This certification must be completed by a medical provider and the employee has 15 calendar days to provide the completed form back to the employer. This will give you the information needed to determine if the leave meets the requirements for a qualifying leave of absence.
Step 5: Provide designation notice
Once you receive the completed medical certification employers must then provide a designation notice to the employee. Again, this notice must be given to the employee within 5 business days of receiving the completed medical certification. This designation notice must inform employees their leave is either denied or approved. If approved, it will be counted against their FMLA entitlement. If the medical certification is unclear or incomplete, more information may be requested, and the employee should be given a reasonable time to return the information requested.
Step 6: Leave is taken
While the employee is taking their leave, an employer can and should require the employee to keep the company updated on their status. As the employer, it’s best to have a policy under attendance and call-in procedures and inform the employee they must continue to follow this policy throughout the duration of their leave.
Step 7: Return to work and reinstatement
If a medical certification was requested and received, you must indicate in both the rights and responsibilities and designation notices that a medical release is required to return to work. This isn’t needed for parental leaves or for leaves to care for an employee’s family members.
You can use this seven-step process as a guide for properly complying with the FMLA, but it’s still important that you educate yourself further on the law to avoid potential confusion when it comes to special leave circumstances. There may also be additional requirements imposed by state-specific leave laws, state sick leave laws, Workers’ Compensation, and the ADA.
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