Simply put, FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) is a federal law that requires employers with 50 or more employees (within a 75 mile radius) to allow employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for the treatment of a medical condition or to care for a family member with a medical condition. This law also applies to bonding time after birth, adoption or placement of a foster child. In order for an employee to qualify for FMLA leave, the employee has to have worked for the company for at least one year and worked a minimum of 1250 hours. Employers are required to allow the employee time off and upon return reinstate the employee to their same position at the same pay, or a similar position (same level of responsibility) and the same pay. The law also has requirements for continuing group benefits, notifications to eligible employees, communications between the employer and employee during leave, and additional leave for military personnel.
Sounds complicated, right? The paragraph above just scratches the surface of the FMLA laws and medical leave is further complicated by state and local laws that may require additional time off. This can often set employers up for costly litigation. An article in Entrepreneur highlights some of the pitfalls of FMLA compliance for employers.
“Lawsuits filed under the statute jumped from 291 in 2012 to 877 in 2013, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The FMLA was the only employment law to generate a sharp increase in claims in that period. The statute requires a lower threshold of proof than most other employment laws. In a bias case, a worker typically has to show that his employer intended to discriminate. But in an FMLA case, he has to show only that the employer somehow deterred or interrupted a leave authorized under the act.”
Additionally, the average settlement or fine paid by an employer for wrongful termination in an FMLA case is $335,000 according to HR.com. These types of fines can be crippling to a small business. This is why it is so important for business owners to have trusted advisors they can call when these types of situations arise.
But what if you have less than 50 employees? Are you in the clear? Not necessarily. You could still end up with a costly wrongful termination or discrimination case on your hands, or even an ADA situation. So, what should you do if you are not required to offer FMLA to you employees? In that case, consistency is key. Create a policy for time off due to medical reasons and stick to it. This will help protect you from claims of discrimination down the road. Also, if you have a policy in place prior to something happening to one of your employees, you can fall back on the policy rather than making an emotional judgment call in the moment.
When these types of questions come up, experts at Helpside are just a phone call away. That simple phone call can save you a lot of future headaches and costs. We also have a toolkit and webinar about FMLA for those who want to learn more. Do you have questions about FMLA, ADA or other employment laws? Contact us today.