When President Clinton first signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law in 1993, the administration aimed to improve work-life balance for American workers at a fundamental level. The Act not only recognizes the value of employees to business and the economy but also to their families. In an effort to allow an employee to contribute to their company’s productivity and to their family's health and well-being, the FMLA entitles employees to 12 weeks leave under certain circumstances, with the ability to return to the same (or nearly the same) job.
As with any government regulation, managing compliance can be tricky, even with the best intentions. From civil money penalties (CMP) to significant damages and court fees, the cost of noncompliance isn’t cheap. Yet, employers still struggle to prepare their staff for what’s expected by the law—and the FMLA is no different. Each year, the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) conducts a survey on leave management, benefits, and policies in the workplace. This year, employers revealed their biggest challenge: training supervisors on leave requirements and management compliance.
In the survey, employers reported difficulty relying on their managers to enforce leave requirements. In fact, survey results show a year-over-year increase in responses reporting a “lack of interest and exposure by supervisors and managers creates problems.”
Employers feel they can't trust managers to enforce compliance rules and ensure employees do not abuse leave benefits. Other employers report lack of understanding by managers to know when leave is permitted and how to properly handle leave management when an employee submits a request.
In the case of Boadi vs The Center of Human Development, a clear lack of training, knowledge, and care for the FMLA by managers led to a company paying over $300,000 in damages and back pay due to their willful violation of the FMLA. It was the “willful violation” on the account of managers and the VP of HR that led the court to double the damages that would have originally been only $150,000. Investing money and time in compliance training now can save you thousands of dollars (and lots of court time) later.
On top of the standards set by the law, many companies have their own leave policies and benefits, like paid maternity and paternity leave or flexible hours and remote working. This is one way companies try to stay competitive in the current job market that favors the talent. For HR professionals, keeping pace with leave management is no simple task, but it’s a necessary one. An important first step is prioritizing leave management education for supervisors and managers.
Here are some FMLA basics every employer, HR professional, manager, and employee need to know:
To whom does the FMLA apply?
The FMLA applies to all private businesses that employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks out of the year, as well as to public agencies, public schools, and private schools (primary and secondary levels).
Does the FMLA apply to full-time or part-time employees?
The FMLA applies to all employees who have worked for a company for a minimum of 12 months and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the 12-month period. This is about 24 hours per week for 52 weeks, so even part-time employees can be covered by the FMLA.
Which events qualify for FMLA leave?
- The birth or adoption of a child, or the foster care placement of a child.
- The care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.
- The employee’s own serious health condition that makes them incapable of performing their work duties.
- Certain qualifying events under Military Family Leave, like upcoming deployment of a spouse or child or caring for a covered servicemember.
What is the employer responsible for under the FMLA?
According to the Department of Labor, the employer’s responsibility includes to provide notice, maintain group health insurance during leave, restore the employee to the same or equivalent job upon return from leave, and maintain records. When you provide notice to employees, you must post a general notice and include a general notice in your employee handbook or in onboarding materials for new hires. For an in-depth look at employer responsibility under the FMLA, review the DOL’s presentation for FMLA training.
More FMLA training resources
You can also download the DOL’s FMLA Employer Guide that acts as a roadmap for managing absence compliance. Beginning with the initial employee leave request, this guide walks you through the series of events included in leave administration all the way to employee job restoration. The DOL designed this guide “to provide essential information about the FMLA, including information about employers’ obligations under the law and the options available to employers in administering leave under the FMLA.”
Within the guide, you can find the following topics for FMLA administration:
- Covered employers and their notice requirements
- When an employee needs FMLA leave, including notice and eligibility
- Qualifying reasons for leave
- The certification process
- Military family leave
- What happens during FMLA leave, including scheduling, leave calculation, benefits, and job restoration
The DMEC also provides a number of great resources for HR professionals managing leave administration including webinars, whitepapers, and their notable @Work Magazine. As a nonprofit organization, their goal is to “advance strategies and resources that improve workforce productivity by minimizing the impact of absence and disability through education, networking, and other resources.” With over 700 member organizations, the DMEC represents over 10,000 leave and absence administrators throughout the U.S. and Canada.
You can also stay up to date on the latest news in workplace compliance by reading the Fuse HR Compliance Tracker. Consider it your go-to place to stay updated on some major workforce compliance issues and trends you’ll see in the future. Plus, learn how you can prepare your business. Sign up to receive HR compliance alerts right in your inbox.
Don’t let FMLA training move to the back burner of this year’s goals for managers. Compliance starts at the top. By thoroughly training managers and supervisors, you can ensure compliance will be managed throughout the organization instead of falling on the shoulders of HR alone. Save your organization the time and the (large) cost of noncompliance by making FMLA training for managers a priority.
*Like all the materials on this website, this content is for informational purposes only and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice.