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FMLA: Know Your Legal Obligations When an Employee Requests Leave

FMLA Leave Requirements

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows employees to take leave for certain situations. Simply put, it helps them balance workplace demands with the needs of their families.

Although the FMLA is a valuable benefit to employees, it can create unique challenges for employers. Let’s look at your rights and responsibilities under this critical legislation.

Does the Law Apply to Your Business?

The FMLA applies to you if you have 50 or more employees on payroll (including part-timers and employees on leave) in 20 or more workweeks in the current or proceeding calendar year. The FMLA also applies to all public agencies regardless of size.

If you’re a private employer with fewer than 50 employees, the FMLA does not affect you. But it’s important to note that state leave laws vary greatly. Just because this federal law doesn’t apply to you doesn’t mean you should deny leave without researching state and local regulations.

FMLA Requirements at a Glance

If you are a covered employer under FMLA requirements, you must grant eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for:

  • The birth and care of the employee’s newborn child
  • The placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care
  • The care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition (i.e., a child, parent or spouse)
  • The care of an employee’s own serious health condition

For employees to be eligible for leave, they must be on your payroll for a total of 12 months. And they need to have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. In other words, new employees are not eligible to take FMLA leave until they have worked for your company for one year.

Keep in mind, too, that FMLA leave can be intermittent. This means employees can take leave in short blocks of time or by reducing their work schedules. Eligible employees may choose to take the 12 weeks all at once – or take a few days (or even hours) to attend medical appointments now and again.

Understanding Serious Health Conditions

The FMLA defines a serious health condition as an illness, injury, impairment, physical condition or mental condition that requires inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider.

It’s important to note that coverage is not limited to physical ailments. Employees can take leave for certain mental conditions like depression or anxiety.

Special Military Leave Benefits

FMLA also covers military-related leave for the Armed Services, including Reservists and National Guard. Employees with a child, spouse or parent on active duty status – or called to active duty status – may receive a 12-week leave for:

  • Attending military events
  • Arranging childcare
  • Making financial and legal arrangements
  • Going to counseling sessions
  • Attending post-deployment briefings

In addition, FMLA allows employees to take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a spouse, child, parent or next of kin who is a member of the Armed Forces and who is undergoing medical treatment or recuperating from a serious injury or illness incurred while on active duty.

How to Properly Administer FMLA Leave

Managing FMLA leave isn’t always easy. It’s best to consult an HR expert or employment law attorney if you have serious concerns. But here are a few tips to guide you through the process:

  • Have a policy requiring written absence requests: As soon as an employee provides verbal notice, it’s up to you as the employer to identify potential FMLA coverage. (The employee doesn’t have to mention FMLA in the request.) To assist
  • Know that employees should give you notice: Employees need to provide 30 days’ notice when the need for FMLA leave is foreseeable. If the need is not foreseeable, they should provide as much notice as possible.
  • Get medical verification: If your employee requests FMLA leave for his or her own serious health condition or for a family member’s serious health condition, you can request medical verification. You must give your employee at least 15 calendar days to get the medical certification.
  • Put the approval in writing: Once you determine that your employee is eligible for FMLA leave, you’re required by law to notify your employee of the approval in writing.
  • Maintain employee health coverage: Again, you do not have to pay employees on FMLA leave (unless the employee uses some of his or her PTO leave to cover a portion of the absence). However, you must continue to provide employee health insurance coverage, including family coverage, under your group health plan.
  • Reinstate your employee after leave: After completing FMLA leave, employees must be returned to their original positions with equivalent pay and benefits.

Simplify Employee Leave Management with the Right Online Tool

Tracking employee leave doesn’t have to be an administrative nightmare. TrackSmart Attendance makes it easy to monitor sick days, vacation time and even FMLA leave. This valuable tool can also help you manage time-off requests, approve timesheets, run detailed reports and store employee records related to the absence.

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