One of the greatest rewards of being a business owner is providing gainful employment and valuable benefits to your team. With every curated benefit, you magnify your core values and motivate your team. Yet, as you grow, be aware of legal requirements that get added to the mix. Today, we’ll share the basics of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so you can anticipate this important regulation.
FMLA was created to help employees take unpaid time off (up to 12 weeks) for important life events without worrying about losing their job. With this protection, employees can have peace of mind when:
- giving birth or adopting/fostering a child;
- caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition;
- caring for their own serious health condition which makes it impossible to work;
- a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or called to covered active duty status. An eligible employee may also take up to 26 work weeks of leave during a “single 12-month period” to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness, when the employee is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the service member.
FMLA is designed for companies with 50+ employees who have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. Even though it’s not legally required, smaller employers sometimes offer FMLA-inspired benefits to help recruit and retain talent. Regardless, don’t wait until you’re about to hire your 50th employee to understand FMLA ramifications.
Continued health insurance coverage is a critical component of FMLA. During leave, employers are legally obligated to maintain the same health insurance as if the employee were still working. On the flip side, employees continue paying the normal contributions to cover premiums.
Educating your managers and employees on the process is also important. Employees should provide 30-days advance notice so you can make adjustments and ensure everything runs smoothly while they’re away. There are exceptions for emergency situations when immediate leave is granted. Keep in mind, your employees are allowed to take leave all at once or in smaller blocks of time, if needed.
Prepare for common employer FMLA mistakes
Pleading ignorance won’t defend your company against FMLA violations. Train your managers in areas that frequently cause problems:
- No FMLA policy – A written policy allows employers to elect terms most advantageous to the company. For instance, by choosing a 12-month rolling period vs. 12-month calendar, you can avoid having employees stack their leaves back to back at the end and beginning of the calendar year.
- Not recognizing FMLA need – Employees who call off work because of a chronic medical condition (for ex: migraines, back issues, etc.) are actually protected. These unplanned leaves of absence can be very disruptive. Penalizing them in any way is illegal under FMLA. Train your managers so they can recognize FMLA requests.
- Failing to provide notices – Employers must provide four notices to employees seeking FMLA leave including: 1. general notice of FMLA rights; 2. eligibility notice within five days of the leave request; 3. rights and responsibilities notice; 4. designation notice within five days of when the leave qualifies for FMLA. Failing to provide these notices can cause legal issues for your company.
- No proper tracking – With intermittent leave, it can be hard to keep an exact count without a formal procedure in place. The biggest risk for employers is counting time as an absence when it should have been counted as FMLA. If that absence is later included as a reason for an employee’s termination, then you’ve violated FMLA.
Beyond FMLA, many states and cities are now adopting paid leave policies. Your local jurisdiction may require paying employees on leave which can be financially challenging for employers. Benefits vary by state, so check local policies to ensure compliance.
We try to educate readers as much as possible, but every company situation is unique. State and local laws differ, and the nuances can be hard to decipher. If staying abreast of changing legislation is stressing you out, consider partnering with MidwestHR. As a leading certified professional employer organization (CPEO) in Illinois, we help our clients interpret any laws affecting their business. By outsourcing all or part of your HR with us, you can stay focused on growing your business. Give us a call at 630.836.3000 to learn how we can help.