The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a complicated law that allows eligible employees unpaid time off with guaranteed job protection.
As a quick reminder, employers with 50 or more employees must adhere to guidelines set forth by the FMLA and grant leave to eligible employees for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. Employees are eligible if they:
- Are employed at a company where at least 50 employees work within a 75-mile radius;
- Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months; and
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately before the leave period starts.
FMLA-covered employers who violate any of the law’s rules and regulations – and there are lots of them – could face Department of Labor fines and employee civil lawsuits. But business owners who educate themselves or consult a trusted advisor can avoid the serious consequences of non-compliance.
Here are some of the more nebulous FMLA scenarios employers should understand:
Sometimes holidays count toward an employee’s FMLA leave, and sometimes they don’t. If an employee takes a full week of leave, holidays that fall during that week should be counted toward the employee’s FMLA time off. But, if an employee works any part of the week, including the holiday, the holiday should not be counted toward FMLA. Brush up on the FMLA rules about holidays here.
The birth of a child is among the more common reasons for FMLA leave. But fostering and adopting children also qualify. When employees request time off under FMLA to bond with a foster or adopted child, employers are restricted from requesting certain types of documentation.
When “medically necessary,” employers must allow eligible employees to take FMLA leave in small increments of days or even hours. Such intermittent or reduced schedule leave is defined as any unpaid absences from work for the same medical reason in the same 12-month period – whether they are hours-, days- or weeks-long blocks of time. To complicate matters, the onus is almost always on employers to determine if an employee’s request for time off qualifies for FMLA leave. Intermittent leave can be tough to manage, so it pays to be informed about its requirements and employer responsibilities.
Contacting Employees on Leave
While the FMLA does not prohibit employers from contacting employees who are on leave, it may not be advisable to do so. There are certain situations, however, where it might be necessary. If employers do reach out to employees taking time off under the FMLA, they should take precautions and document the communications.
Employers might naturally assume that employees cannot request unpaid time off after a natural disaster under the FMLA. But they shouldn’t. In some cases, a natural disaster could, in fact, trigger FMLA eligibility. If employees experience a “serious health condition” due to a natural disaster, they could qualify for FMLA leave. Learn more in this Axcet post, including another situation in which employees affected by a natural disaster would be eligible for FMLA leave.