FMLA Needs in Law Firms

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), entitles eligible employees to unpaid, protected leave when dealing with certain family and medical events. These include personal health conditions or illness, those of a spouse, parents or child, and other events such as the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child. To be eligible, a company must employ 50 employees or more, although there are exceptions to this rule for public and local education facilities as well as for employees such as a flight crew. Similarly, there are differences in qualifying events for military families with deployment of the serviceman, illness, or injury of the serviceman or veteran amongst others being considered qualifying events. Serious illness or injury is defined as illness, injury, or impairment (mental or physical), which prevents the employee from performing their work responsibilities, requires an overnight stay in hospital, or ongoing care from their physician amongst other criteria.

Leave may be used intermittently rather than all at once, and both employer and employee must work together to schedule leave to avoid unnecessary disruption. If possible, employees should try to give 30 days notice and may choose to use accrued paid leave as part of their leave and in conjunction with taking family and medical leave. Certain states such as New Jersey have expanded their definition of family to include civil union partner and child of their civil union partner. Other states have further broadened their definition of what constitutes categories which fall under the FMLA. For example, Connecticut includes organ or bone marrow donor as an eligible category.

Consequence of failure to adhere to the employees’ rights for family and medical leave, such as interfering or discouraging  the employee from taking leave, taking discharge or discriminatory practice such as using an employee’s request to affect promotions or disciplinary actions, may have severe consequences. Similarly, other methods such as changing records of employee’s hours of work, to manipulate their eligibility for family and medical leave, are taken very seriously. The Wage and Hour Division is responsible for administrating the FMLA, and handles any complaints in the first instance. In serious situations which cannot be resolved at this level, the US Department of Labor may bring court action. As the average cost of FMLA lawsuit is $78,000 (regardless of the outcome), employers should take compliance of this law seriously.

Employers have certain responsibilities, including informing employees of their eligibility for family and medical leave, reasons for ineligibility, or avoiding employee discrimination such as dismissal of an employee if they choose to utilize leave, amongst other responsibilities. As the family and medical leave federal and state laws are updated, monitoring employee eligibly for leave as well as administration of the process itself, can be time consuming and expensive. To mitigate this, many companies are choosing to utilize software specifically designed to help provide a smoother process all around. Such software not only records all relevant employee data in one place, but can also receive monthly updates on any changes to the FMLA law and generate relevant documentation required at each stage of the leave process. Reports can be run from this data allowing employees to analyze and monitor the leave process.


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