According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee may be legally entitled to several weeks of unpaid leave when they need time off work to handle a medical or family emergency. It’s critical to comprehend whether the FMLA applies to your company, what benefits it provides to your employees, and how to abide by it. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also introduces additional paid or partially paid leave provisions that you should be aware of.
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
According to a federal legislation known as the Family and Medical Leave Act, if both the employer and the employee meet specific criteria, then an employee may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical reasons. In order for the law to be applicable, you must have more than 50 employees, and the employee who is requesting the leave must have put in at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months. But there are some exceptions.
According to Bryn Goodman, a labor and employment lawyer at Fox Rothschild LLP, “even where an employer does not satisfy the 50-employee requirement, the employer may be protected when the corporate structure allows for two employers to be designated joint employers.” Regardless of whether businesses reach the 50-employee requirement, public agencies and private and public elementary and secondary schools are covered by the FMLA.
Who is eligible for the FMLA?
Employees at covered businesses (those with more than 50 employees) are qualified for FMLA coverage If they fulfill the following criteria: They had a qualified reason for leaving, they had worked for the covered employer for at least 12 months (consecutively or not), at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months, and they had worked for the covered employer for at least 12 months.
Qualifying reasons for leave under the FMLA include the following:
- The birth of the employee’s child
- The adoption or foster care placement of a child with the employee
- To care for their spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition
- To recover from their own serious health condition that prevents them from performing their job
- A qualifying exigency arising out of the military service of an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent)
- To care for a military member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, child, parent or next of kin (26 weeks of leave)
The recent Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is another important piece of information for small business owners. The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA), which temporarily expands who may be eligible for leave coverage and paid or partially paid leave, is included in this law.
How does the FMLA work?
The employer and employee must both be eligible for the FMLA’s benefits, and the employee must have a good reason for needing the leave in order to take it. According to Joseph E. Slater, distinguished professor of law and values at the University of Toledo, although while the employee is normally needed to request FMLA leave before taking it, the employee does not have to use the precise term “FMLA leave” for the request to be accepted. For illustration, Slater claimed that “I need time off for my cancer treatments” would be a legitimate FMLA request.
FMLA notification obligations
When an employee wants to take leave covered under the FMLA, there are several notification obligations that both the employer and the employee should meet.
- Notice of rights:A notification of the employee’s FMLA rights must be posted by the employer in a way that is clear and accessible to the worker.
- Notice of leave:The employee is responsible for informing the employer of the need for leave as soon as possible, but at least 30 days in advance.
- Documentation of reason for leave:The employee must normally submit the medical proof within 15 calendar days if the employer requests it to support the basis for the leave of absence.
- Notice of acceptance or denial:The employer must inform the employee if the leave is covered under the FMLA within five business days of examining the employee’s request. The employer must give a good justification if they decide the leave does not meet FMLA requirements.
- Medical documentation to return to work:If the reason for leave is the employee’s own illness, then the employee may be required to provide a medical certification proving their fitness for duty when they return to work.
Length of FMLA leave
The FMLA allows for 12- or 26-week increments of leave spread over a 12-month period; however, it is up to the employer to set the parameters for the 12-month period that qualifies.
Many firms utilize a rolling period, according to Goodman, to prevent workers from taking 12 weeks at the end of one calendar year and another 12 weeks at the start of the following year. “Employees eligible for leave to care for a military family member must use leave in a single 12-month period beginning on the first day of the leave.”
Depending on the employee’s needs and the cause for leaving, FMLA leave may be taken continuously or intermittently. Employees are frequently exempt from submitting extra documentation for intermittent FMLA leave if they submit sufficient documentation prior to the granted FMLA leave.
Intermittent leave typically needs the employer’s approval, according to Goodman. If a reduced schedule is necessary for a planned medical procedure, the employee is required to schedule any subsequent treatments to minimize any impact on the employer’s business activities.
When can an employer deny the FMLA?
Although it is rare, there are several circumstances in which an employer may choose to reject an employee’s request for FMLA-required leave. Goodman outlined the most typical scenarios in which an employer would reject an employee’s request for leave:
- If the employer is not covered by FMLA or EFMLA
- If the employee does not meet the eligible FMLA requirements
- If the employee is not seeking leave for a qualifying reason
- If the employee does not provide proper leave notice
- If the employee does not authorize the employer to contact the healthcare provider or fails to authorize release of medical certification
- If the employer has fewer than 50 employees and permitting leave would jeopardize the financial health of the business (under EFMLA)
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