Every business desires continuous growth, but with such expansion comes a significant number of growing pains, many of which are related to a corresponding increase in regulatory burden.
One prime example is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires organizations with 50 or more workers to provide eligible employees with up to three months, or 12 work weeks, of unpaid annual leave while maintaining their group health benefits. Under the law, eligible employees are those that have worked 1,250 hours over the last 12 months and need time off to attend to a serious health condition affecting themselves or a family member, for a child's birth or to bond with a newborn or newly adopted son or daughter. Some military family leave provisions are also included in the law.
While the FMLA is fairly straightforward, bussinesses that are approaching the 50-worker threshold would be wise to familiarize themselves with some of the intricacies of the regulation and make the necessary preparations. Here are three steps HR professionals should take when gearing up for the adoption of FMLA guidelines.
1. Develop written policies in advance
Organizations are legally required to follow the FMLA as soon as they reach the qualifications, and those that are not properly prepared immediately expose themselves to regulatory repercussions, and risk being hit for damages including back wages, interest and penalties.
Companies should develop written policies and have the proper forms available before FMLA rules become applicable. Doing so will not only protect your enterprise from exposure, but will also help you figure out in advance how you will notify employees of their rights, obtain information from health care providers and make determinations regarding which situations are relevant to the FMLA.
HR will also want to be proactive in informing employees of their rights – for example, if an employee takes off multiple days for a situation that could be covered by the FMLA, the employer must notify the worker of the time off they are guaranteed by the FMLA.
2. Recognize what all is covered and what exceptions exist
Straightforward though it may seem, it's not always easy to recognize what is and isn't covered by the FMLA. This is especially true in the case of various special circumstances that exist for types of employees or employers.
For example, the FMLA's provision for military caregiver leave allows some employees attending to relatives who sustained injuries as a result of military service to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period, more than double the 12 weeks the law normally requires.
Alternately, an employee may try to take more time than they are entitled to – for instance, an employee requesting 2 weeks of paid time off to recover from surgery and then taking 12 weeks for the birth of a child during the same 12-month period could be absent for more time than the law requires.
For this reason, employers should clearly outline in their PTO and FMLA policies how and when time-off policies run concurrently, since organizations have the right to count any absence for a qualifying condition towards the 12 weeks mandated by law.
3. Keep all of the paperwork
Finally, as is the case with all such regulations, proper and thorough documentation is essential. If complications or legal questions arise, it's important to be able to produce the paperwork that proves employees received the correct amount of family and medical leave.
The Society for Human Resource Management recommends that organizations be especially diligent in documenting intermittent leave. For example, if an employee takes multiple half-days to care for a sick relative every other afternoon, employers will have to be more vigilant about tracking their time off than when a new parent simply takes all 12 weeks of paternal or maternal leave at once.
Though implementing the FMLA can prove complicated, as long as employers make proactive efforts to prepare for its regulations and inform employees of their rights, explicitly codifying and consistently enforcing all policies, organizations can grow their workforce without fear of overstepping their boundaries.