Hirshhorn is one of millions of workers who
have used the FMLA to balance the competing demands of work and health needs.
Signed into law by former President Bill
Clinton in 1993, the law generally requires
employers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to individuals recovering from a medical condition, caring for
sick family members, or following the birth
or adoption of a child under the age of 18.
The law applies equally to male and female
employees and defnes a “son or daughter”
loosely to include a biological, adopted or
foster child; a stepchild; and a legal ward or
a child of a person standing in loco parentis.
The act covers about 60 percent of U.S.
employers—including private-sector companies with 50 or more employees, and
public agencies and schools regardless of
the number of people working there—but
not all workers at these entities are eligible
for time of under the FMLA. To qualify,
a person must have been employed with
his or her company for at least 12 months
and must have worked a minimum of 1,250
hours during the 12-month period immediately before the leave (an average of about
24 hours a week).
In the law’s frst two decades, employees
used it more than 100 million times, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And despite the widespread concerns
of employers and management groups
leading up to the act’s passage, it has
been good for workers and companies,
too, allowing the return of experienced
workers once their need for FMLA leave
But there’s a catch. Even after 25
years, the rules—particularly those allowing time of to be taken sporadically
or with little or no advance notice—
remain cumbersome and confusing. Managers often struggle to cover for people
who take extended leave. And the risk
of being sued by an employee claiming
to have been unfairly denied leave or
punished for taking it keeps many HR
professionals on edge.
But as tricky as the compliance issues
can get, it’s important not to lose sight
of why the law exists. The human toll
of a health challenge can be enormous.
That’s why it’s vital for HR to be discreet
and supportive of employees who need
To help you get a handle on the most
vexing issues, here is a primer for complying with the FMLA.
DEVELOP SOUND POLICY
Every company covered by the FMLA
needs a written policy that is clear, con-
cise and up-to-date. At a minimum, ac-
cording to Miami-based employment
attorney Lisa Berg with Stearns Weaver
Miller, it should address:
ā ā FMLA eligibility.
ā ā How the 12-week leave period is cal-
ā ā Notice requirements for workers re-
ā ā Medical certification rules docu-
menting the need for time of.
ā ā Steps employees must take to report
to the company while on leave.
ā ā Eligibility for benefts while employ-
ees are out.
ā ā Fitness-for-duty certification re-
Also, be sure to specify whether
your organization requires that paid
vacation, sick or personal time be used
concurrently with unpaid FMLA leave.
You can mandate that employees comply with your customary procedures for
‘Be sure to
all types of
“There was the time I needed foot surgery
and didn’t have enough sick leave to
cover the time I’d be out,” she recalled.
Not long before that, she took time off
to care for her husband after he had
knee replacement surgery—twice. “I’m
really not sure what I would have done
if FMLA leave wasn’t available to me. I
might have just had to quit my job.”