Categorized | Workplace

The FMLA Can Really Help Working Parents.

Posted on 21 February 2011

It has been used by employees to care for ailing parents, bond with newborns, and deal with chronic illness. It has been a blessing for employees and, at times, a burden for employers. It is the Family Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as the FMLA.

Enacted in 1993, the FMLA requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to employees for certain family and medical reasons. Employees are eligible if they have completed 1,250 hours of employment for a covered employer for the 12-month period preceding the request for leave. Unpaid leave must be granted for any of the following reasons:

  • To care for the employee’s child after birth or placement for adoption or foster care
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent, who has a serious health condition
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his/her job

Flexibility Built In
Human resource professionals agree that, while the FMLA creates some burdens for the employer, it has greatly benefited employees. “Before the FMLA, employees had to pay 100 percent of benefits if they went on a leave of absence,” explains Marita Zifcak, HR specialist at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, MA. “With FMLA, the employer is required during the 12-week leave to continue paying for benefits, as well as hold the employee’s job open until their return.”

The FMLA challenges employers to work around staffing issues, but the benefits far outweigh the deficits.

Joanne Lisinski, benefits specialist at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, says that university employees use the FMLA primarily for their own medical conditions. “The second-most common practice we see is fathers taking time off to be with their newborns,” she explains. “We also have instances of intermittent leave, when employees take time off to recover from treatment following a serious illness. Employees also have the option of taking the leave as either paid or unpaid. In the first case, they can use both sick and vacation time to get paid while on leave.”

Starts and Stops Stump Employers

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of FMLA for employers is intermittent leave. “It can create some problems,” Zifcak says, “when an employee elects to take a few days off here and there because of a chronic condition. Managers find it difficult to appropriately staff when they can’t predict if an employee will be available for work.”

Although the FMLA provides many protections for employees, some people actually refuse to use it. “The law does require them to provide documentation regarding the reasons for the request,” says Lisinski. “Some feel this is an unnecessary invasion of their privacy. And if they take leave for personal medical reasons, they must receive medical clearance before returning to work.”

While the FMLA challenges employers to work around staffing issues, both Zifcak and Lisinski agree that the benefits outweigh the deficits. The law ensures that, if needed, employees can take time off to spend with those family members who need them. Being free of worries about their job while out only increases their resolve when they eventually return to work.

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