The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a labor law in the U.S. that requires certain employers to provide workers with unpaid, protected leave for certain family-related and medical reasons. The 1993 law provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in which time group health benefits must be maintained. FMLA covers a wide range of events, such as pregnancy, foster care, adoption, family military leave, placement of a child, or family illness. Learn more about the Family and Medical Leave Act and what your business should know about it.
History of the Family and Medical Leave Act
While the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993, it has a rich history that both precedes and follows the law’s establishment. The FMLA was actually introduced to Congress every year starting in 1984 until it was finally passed in the early 1990s. During this time, the law was repeatedly blocked by some well-funded opponents. Today, the FMLA is administered by the United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
Prior to the introduction of the FMLA, it was common for employees to lose their jobs when a major life event happened or an illness occurred that required them to take more than a week off of work. This was especially common among expecting moms who routinely took four or more weeks off of work to have a child. In an attempt to maintain employment, many women returned to work too soon, while risking their health to protect their job.
The FMLA was designed to help balance out the demands of the workplace with those of family. The act covers both private and public sector employees. However, certain types of employees are excluded, such as elected officials and the official’s personal staff members.
The FMLA was a big part of President Bill Clinton’s agenda during his first term. The President signed the bill into law on February 5th, 1993 but the bill would not take effect until August 5th. Although the act majorly focused on protection for individuals in need of medical or family leave, it also aimed to accommodate the best interests of employers. This meant that employees who desired to have extended leave under the FMLA must be found eligible under specific stipulations.
Employers who require time off under the FMLA must be deemed eligible based on a set of specific criteria. To be eligible, an employer must have more than 50 employees total within a 75-mile radius of the worksite. The employee must also have had to work for an employer for at least 12 months. The employee must also have had worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the start of his or her leave date. When the employee returns, the employer must return the employee to the same or an equivalent job position.
The Family and Medical Leave Act Today
Congress recently amended the Family and Medical Leave Act to protect the families of men and women in the Armed Service. These new provisions require employers to provide eligible workers with up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to the spouse, daughter, son, parent, or next of kin to effectively care for an Armed Service member who may be undergoing medical treatments, therapy, or recuperation for a serious illness or injury. Today, eleven states have also enacted their own version of the Act, including California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Washington, and Vermont.
On February 23, 2015, another important section of the FMLA was altered. The Wage and Hour Division announced a rule to revise the definition of spouse in light of the United States v. Windsor decision made by the United States Supreme Court. Located in section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the previous definition was found to be unconstitutional. The Final Rule altered the definition of spouse to allow employees in legal same-sex marriages to take leave under the FMLA to care for a family member or spouse, no matter their location.
How the FMLA Impacts Businesses
There are certain drawbacks of the FMLA on employers. Specifically, businesses with fewer employees may find it difficult to replace an employee on leave, resulting in a delay in full operations. However, there are some important things that businesses need to know about the Family and Medical Leave Act. First, employers are not required to pay employees during their leave time. The FMLA is in place to merely protect the employee’s job while he or she is away. Any pay provided to the employee is based on the employee’s availability of personal days, vacation days, or sick time.
In some instances, employees may choose to go on leave without pay. However, employers may require that an employee use up any accrued paid leave to cover all or some of the leave time. It is also important to understand that although employees have up to 12 weeks of leave time, these weeks do not have to be consecutive. Complete days also do not have to be taken. An employee may choose to work on a reduced schedule or take intermittent leave. In addition, the use of the FMLA by an employee can not result in the loss of any employment benefit that the employee was previously entitled to.
Contact a Benefits Consultant
As a business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your company is running efficiently and that your employees are available to do their jobs. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act can make it difficult to maintain full staff at the workplace when certain employees are forced to take extended leave. By understanding how the Family and Medical Leave Act works and how to best handle absences, you can continue growing your business undisturbed. For more information about the Family and Medical Leave Act, contact a professional benefits consultant at BBG Business Benefits Group today.