Employee Leaves Of Absence: A Simple Explanation Of FMLA Requirements For Managers

Figuring out your obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act can be tricky. But you can make compliance easier by educating your managers about the law’s basic requirements and some special rules under the California Family Rights Act. Here’s a checklist of basic facts and practical tips to help supervisors avoid the most common FMLA problems:

Our HR Management & Compliance Report: How To Comply with California and Federal Leave Laws, covers everything you need to know to stay in compliance with both state and federal law in one of the trickiest areas of compliance for even the most experienced HR professional. Learn the rules for pregnancy and parental leaves, medical exams and certifications, intermittent leaves, required notices, and more.


  1. Coverage. The FMLA applies only to worksites that have 50 or more employees within 75 miles. If any or all of your worksites don’t meet this requirement, you’re not obligated to give FMLA leave to employees at that site. Also, employees must have worked for the company for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months to qualify for FMLA leave.


  2. Instances when FMLA leave is required. An employee is eligible for leave in three situations: for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child; for their own serious health condition; or to care for a parent, spouse or child with a serious health condition.


  3. Serious health conditions. Employers often get bogged down here because the definition of a serious health condition isn’t easy to apply. A serious health condition must involve: 1) inpatient medical care; 2) pregnancy or prenatal care; 3) a health condition lasting three consecutive days coupled with on-going treatment by a healthcare provider; 4) a chronic, serious condition such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy for which the person is under supervision by a healthcare provider; 5) any period of absence for multiple treatments such as chemotherapy or kidney dialysis; or 6) a permanent long-term condition for which treatment may not be effective. Illnesses such as cold or flu are not usually covered unless there are complications. Employers should beware, however, of denying a serious health condition leave request, even if it seems not to qualify under these criteria, if a doctor has certified it (see below). Courts have taken a dim view of employers who substitute their own judgment for that of the employee’s healthcare provider. Under California law, employees can’t take family leave for pregnancy-related disabilities because a separate state law allows leave for disabilities due to pregnancy. California pregnancy leave may also be stacked with family leave to care for a newborn child, lengthening the amount of time off.


  4. Medical certification. Make sure the employee provides medical certification of their condition. You can request medical certification in the letter you send to employees notifying them whether they are eligible for FMLA leave. If employees don’t provide the certification within the 15 days required, you don’t have to allow FMLA leave unless they can show a reasonable basis for needing more time to get the certification. You generally can ask for a second or even a third opinion if you pay the cost.


  5. Notification requirements. You have to post a notice of employee FMLA rights and a special California family leave notice. You must also inform employees who request leave about their rights and responsibilities.


  6. Designating FMLA leave. A common problem arises when managers don’t designate leave as FMLA leave because the company has a paid leave program they believe covers the employee’s needs. If you don’t certify the leave as FMLA, it doesn’t count toward an employee’s FMLA entitlement—and the worker could take both the company’s paid leave and the FMLA leave.


  7. Reinstatement. When the leave ends, you generally must reinstate employees to the same job or a position equivalent in pay, shift, benefits and employment conditions. You may also ask for a letter from their doctor certifying that they can perform the job.


  8. Intermittent and reduced-schedule leave. For serious health condition leaves, employees may take intermittent days off for treatment or, if a doctor certifies it’s medically necessary, reduce their regular work schedule. But you can request medical certification explaining why the leave is necessary. Also, intermittent leave should be scheduled in advance if it’s foreseeable based on planned medical treatment.


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