FMLA Needs in schools
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12 month period due to reasons such as birth of a child, adoption or fostering of a child, serious health condition or illness of a spouse, child or parent, or a serious health condition of the employees themselves. There are eligibility criteria and specific definitions of what constitutes eligible reasons for leave and a covered employee. For example, private companies must have 50 or more employees to be considered covered. Criteria for family and medical leave differ for schools, with both public and private elementary and secondary schools being covered regardless of the amount of employees. Special rules apply to instructional employees within schools, and schools must be aware of this definition. Under the FMLA, instructional employees are those who have instruction as part of their main role. This may include athletic coaches, special education assistants, and signers. Teaching assistants, school counselors, psychologists, cafeteria workers and school bus drivers, are not included within these special rules. Instructional employees may be subject to special rules regarding when they take their leave, particularly if this is near the end of a term or school year.
Employer responsibilities include informing employees of their eligibility for leave, including ensuring an FMLA poster detailing rules and regulations is available on the premises. The wide variety of definitions within this act, not to mention differing rules for military families and educational instructors within schools, calls for employers to be thoroughly knowledgeable regarding this act. In some cases rules and definitions may vary by state. Once an employee submits a request for leave, there are several steps that employers have to take, including responding within 5 business days, providing one or more reasons for an employee’s ineligibility for leave, and documentation detailing the employees’ rights and responsibilities. Similarly, employees have responsibilities such as providing as much detail regarding their leave and providing as much notice in advance as possible. They must also update their employer regarding any changes to their leave status and provide supporting documentation. Noncompliance can result in heavy fines and, in some cases, lawsuits which can have serious implications for the employer.
To ensure compliance, many companies are choosing to outsource their HR needs to companies which specialize in ensuring compliance with laws such as the FMLA. These companies provide employers with access to software such as ICON, which help to effectively and accurately record all employee leave in compliance with state and federal laws. These services not only record employee leave but also help to generate relevant documentation, leave letters, and provide decision support. These are useful software solutions for large employers and small to mid-sized employers.