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What the Regulatory Updates of FMLA Mean for Your Business

Find out about what the recent expansions of the Family and Medical Leave Act mean, and why it is more important than ever for employers to understand employees' requests for FMLA leave.

The FMLA was passed in 1993 to give eligible employees the ability to take job-protected time off for specific health and family reasons. Under the current provisions, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in a 12-month period for qualifying reasons.  An eligible employee may also take up to 26 workweeks of leave during a "single 12-month period" to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness, when the employee is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the service member.

One would like to say that FMLA is fairly straightforward for a business to administer, yet each year there are hundreds of lawsuits filed related to the FMLA including but not limited to wrongful termination lawsuits and claims of discrimination. It's become an almost fearful experience for some businesses, perhaps compounded with the release of revised FMLA regulations, effective March 8, 2013.

What are the Updated FMLA Regulations?

The US DOL issued a Final Rule in February of 2013 implementing two important expansions of FMLA protections. The first expansion provides families of eligible veterans with the same job-protected FMLA leave currently available to families of military service members and it also enables more military families to take leave for activities that arise when a service member is deployed. The second expansion modifies existing rules so that airline personnel and flight crews are better able to make use of the FMLA's protections.

How does the FMLA Final Rule impact employers?

The final rule makes it more important than ever for employers to know the details regarding an employee's request for leave due the expansion of qualifying reasons for FMLA leave as described above.

In some cases, time away from work may qualify as FMLA leave but may also qualify for concurrent leave under state law. Certain leaves may also be eligible for disability and/or workers' compensation benefits. HR administrators will want to carefully track and manage leave requests and leaves taken to ensure compliance with all applicable laws.

Payroll and benefits administrators will need to comply with FMLA regulations related to compensation and benefits. If an employee is provided group health insurance, the employee is entitled to the continuation of the group health insurance coverage during FMLA leave on the same terms as if he or she had continued to work. If family member coverage is provided to an employee, family member coverage must be maintained during the FMLA leave. The employee must continue to make any normal contributions to the cost of the health insurance premiums.

An employee's rights to benefits other than group health insurance while on FMLA leave depend upon the employer's established policies. Any benefits that would be maintained while the employee is on other forms of leave, including paid leave if the employee substitutes accrued paid leave during FMLA leave, must be maintained while the employee is on FMLA leave.

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