With all the lawsuits related to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, human resources managers need to make sure they do everything by the book when an employee gives notice that they’ll be out for an extended period of time.
The government mandates 12 job-protected weeks during a 12 month period for eligible employees who have recently had a child (through birth or adoption placement), need to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, have a serious health condition themselves or have to cover for a family member serving in the military. Eligible employees can also take up to 26 weeks for military caregiver leave during a single 12 month period.
Here are a several things an HR manager can do to stay compliant, protect the company and ensure a smooth transition for employer and employee alike:
1. Recertification: Before an employee goes on intermittent leave, request FMLA recertification. The law allows employers to request medical recertification once every 30 days under certain circumstances.
2. Discuss Vacation Benefits: Either employee or employer can decide whether a worker’s accrued paid vacation or sick days will go towards the 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave.
3. Handle IT Logistics: See IT about email access to the employee’s inbox. If the worker maintains outside communications ¾such as handling client accounts¾make sure those emails are forwarded to another employee during the absence.
4. Redistribute Workload: That employee’s work still needs to get done, right? Find the most appropriate way to have others handle that employee’s workload or possibly call a temporary employment service. Temp agencies can find workers to cover a job for a single day or for an extended period.
5. Check In: Employers are allowed to request that a worker on FMLA leave call in to report his or her status. Employees are still required under the law to give adequate notice and comply with a company’s call-in policy.
6. Stay Compliant: Keep current with the law, and make sure your managers do too. Supervisors need to know the ins and outs of the law, as they will likely be the first line of communication between workers and the executives who oversee leave under FMLA. Employers are required to have an updated FMLA poster prominently displayed somewhere in the office.
7. Protect the Employee’s Privacy: Coworkers will probably notice their cube-mate’s absence, but employers should not disclose any employee medical information.
8. Watch the Weather and Holidays: Calculate holidays and snow days while your employee is on leave, as an office shut-down day or national holiday may count toward the worker’s FMLA balance¾depending on whether they take a full week off or only part of it. Leave under FMLA is measured in work weeks, with intermittent or shorter leaves counting as fractions of weeks. Thanksgiving week offers a good example: If an employee on FMLA leave takes off the normally scheduled Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the office is closed Thursday and Friday, then he or she is docked a full week of his or her FMLA balance. If the employee works the Monday and Tuesday, but takes Wednesday off under FMLA, then only Wednesday is deducted. However, since Thanksgiving week has three days, the day of FMLA leave is one-third of a week, rather than the one-fifth of a normal work-week.
9. Reassess an Employee’s Role: Other workers who are covering for an employee on leave may discover a huge mess in his or her wake, or the employee might refuse to adhere to company policy while away. Either situation can be grounds for termination. Companies can’t fire an employee for taking time under FMLA, but with legitimate reason can fire a worker upon his or her return.
10. Prepare for Employee’s Return: When it’s time for an employee to return, they are entitled to their old job or an equivalent position with similar hours, expectations and salary. If he or she can no longer perform the old job due to a medical condition, make sure a termination would not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Although this list is far from being comprehensive, it should be of help when trying to untangle some of FMLA’s provisions. Also, remember that some states have different regulations beyond FMLA so keep current on all of these laws to remain in compliance and consult legal counsel when necessary.
Has anyone in your company requested FMLA leave? What kind of complications popped up?