Changes to FMLA Clarify Employer Responsibilities

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<strong>Sunrise, Fla. &mdash; April 22 </strong><br />Applying the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has confused employers and human resources departments across the country. A recent change and several proposed amendments to the Act have expanded the program to military families and will clarify application of the Act in civilian and military situations.<br /><br />Under current FMLA guidelines, U.S. employers must grant eligible employees up to a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:<br /><br /><ul><li>The birth and care of the employee&#39;s newborn child.</li><li>The placement of an adopted or foster child with the employee.</li><li>To care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.</li><li>As medical leave when employees are unable to work because of their own serious health conditions.</li></ul><br />The Department of Labor (DOL) and Congress recently took two important actions affecting the current FMLA rules:<br /><br />1. New FMLA changes enacted by Congress create special leave rights for military families.<br />2. The DOL issued proposed changes to the FMLA that focus on improving troublesome areas of FMLA administration.<br /><br /><strong>Military Family Changes</strong><br />In January 2008, President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act that contained an addition to the FMLA, providing up to 26 weeks of leave for military families. "Employees who are the immediate family member of active-duty service members can use up to 26 weeks of leave to care for an injured service member or 12 weeks if they have a loved one who has reported for active duty," said Ashley<br />Kaplan, compliance attorney for G.Neil, a provider of human resources and employment law compliance products.<br /><br />Employers will be required to display an updated posting including the latest military family leave rights under the FMLA, along with a description of employees&#39; rights under the law. "Employers should also dedicate a section of their employee handbook to address the new FMLA rules," added Kaplan.<br /><br /><strong>Clarifications to Current FMLA Guidelines</strong><br />The DOL published proposed changes to the FMLA in February 2008. One proposed change addresses sections of the Act that have caused confusion in the workplace.<br /><br />The proposal would change the medical certification process to reduce vague medical standards and address ineligible FMLA use. It would also require employees to provide practical FMLA leave notice to their employers.<br /><br /><strong>Serious Health Condition Clarified</strong><br />The definition of "serious health condition" under the law is the basis for much of the confusion surrounding FMLA rules. Companies struggle to decide whether an employee&#39;s illness falls under the definition. Some unethical employees have taken advantage of the vague definition, using it to cover up absentee issues, while unethical employers have denied legitimate claims based upon their own narrow interpretation of the FMLA guidelines. Proposed changes would better explain the terms, theoretically protecting both employers and employees.<br /><br />Other proposed FMLA changes include issues of workplace size, second and third medical opinions, excluded illnesses, duration and timing of illness and recertification for ongoing health issues. <br />

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