Parental Leave and the family and medical leave act (FMLA)

Parental leave is an important benefit. About half of workers are women, and about 80% will become pregnant during their work lives. Furthermore, many women and men are heads of single parent households. Under the pregnancy discrimination act, employers must treat women applying for pregnancy leave as they would any employee requesting a leave under the employee’s policies. Beyond this, congress passed, as we noted, that family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). Among other things the law stipulates that:

1) Private employees of 50 or more employees must provide eligible employees women or men) up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for their own serious illness, the birth or adoption of a child, or the care of a seriously ill child, spouse or parent
2) Employers mat require employees to take any unused paid sick leave or annual leave as apart of the 12 week leave provided in the law.
3) Employees taking leave are entitled to receive health benefits while they are on unpaid leave, under the same terms and conditions as when they were on the job.
4) Employers must guarantee most employees the right to return tot their pervious or equivalent position with no loss of benefits at the end of the leave.

FMLA Employer Concerns

FMLA leaves are usually unpaid but they’re not costless. The costs associated with hiring temporary replacements training them and compensating for their lower productivity can be considerable.

Employers have expressed some dissatisfaction with the FMLA. A survey of 416 human resource professionals found that about half said they approved leaves they believed were not legitimate but felt they had to grant because of vague interpretations of the law. For example, a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to form the job is one reason for FMLA leave; unfortunately it’s not clear what this means. The Act seems to exclude short term conditions. However, the Department of Labor’s FMLA regulations seem to set a lower bar: that serious health conditions include those where an employee sees a health care provider once, gets a prescription and is told by the health care provident to call back if the symptoms don’t improve.

FMLA Guidelines

Therefore the employer who wants to avoid granting non required FMLA leaves needs to understand some FMLA details. For example, to be eligible for leave under the FMLA, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least a total of 12 months and have worked (not just been paid, as someone might be if on leave) for 1,250 or more hours in the past 12 consecutive months. If these do not apply no leave is required.

Policy issues therefore loom large. For example if the employer uses a calendar of fiscal year for its 12 month FMLA A period then an employee could conceivably take two 12 week leaves back to back. To avoid this, write the policy so the check starts again on the date the employee returns from his or her last leave. Similarly keep in mind that under the FMLA the employee must give the employer 30 days advance notice if the need is foreseeable.

Employers obviously need clear procedures for leaves of absence (including those awarded under the Family and Medical Leave Act)> these include:

1) In general, no employee should be given a leave until it’s clear what the leave is for.
2) If the leave is for medical or family reasons, the employer should obtain medical certification from the attending physician or medical practitioner
3) A standard form should also place on record the employee’s expected return date, and the fact that without an authorized extension, the firm may terminate his or her employment.
4) One employment lawyer says employers should kind of bend over backward when deciding if an employee is eligible for leave based on an FMLA situation. However, employers can require independent medical assessments before approving paid FMLA disability leaves.

Some employers are enriching their parental leave plans to make it more attractive for mothers to return from maternity leave. Tactics include; increasing maternity leave pay: communicating benefits and supports proactively; keeping in touch throughout the maternity leave offering meaningful jobs with reduced travel and hours; giving mothers fair access to bonuses and incentives and facilitating longer leaves.

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