In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The purpose of the act is to provide job security for employees who need to be temporarily absent from the workplace in order to attend to a family-related medical crisis.
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Aside from the protection it affords for employees, FMLA advocates have argued that employers also benefit because employees are better able to balance the demands of work and family, thus making them more effective employees over the long-term. However, many employers have been concerned by the potential conflicts FMLA creates in terms of scheduling and productivity.
In an effort to balance the needs of employers and employees, FMLA was passed with a number of provisions and stipulations:
- Eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during a 12-month period for qualified family and/or medical reasons. The 12-week leave period is allowed to be applied on an intermittent basis, meaning the employee does not need to take it all at once.
- Employees may apply accrued sick time to receive partial pay during the leave period. They may also qualify for unemployment benefits. Additionally, employers are required to maintain the employee's health insurance coverage while they are on leave.
- In order to be eligible under FMLA, employees must have worked at the company for more than 12 months, and the company must employ 50 or more workers.
- Qualified reasons for eligible employees may take advantage of FMLA include:
- The birth and subsequent care of a child
- The adoption of a child
- The care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious medical condition
- A serious medical condition that makes it impossible for the employee to perform his/her job
- Upon returning from a qualified leave period, the employee must be allowed to return to the same job or one that is similar in terms of compensation, schedule, working conditions, benefits, etc. If the position has been eliminated while the employee was on leave, the employer is not required to create a "new" position to bring the employee back to work. However, if the position still exists and has merely been filled by someone else, then the employer must provide the employee with employment.
While FMLA has in many ways been a great asset in the workplace, it has also been a source of tension. The best approach for handling issues surrounding FMLA in your business is to educate yourself and your employees ahead of time. This minimizes the potential for misunderstandings when the time comes for an employee to go on leave.
It is also a good policy (and common courtesy) to be as compassionate as possible when dealing with employees who need to take leave. Those employees already have their hands full dealing with a medical crisis at home. The last thing they need is another problem. Your understanding and assistance will go a long way toward gaining the respect and loyalty of your employees.