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Provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

 

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has published a Final Rule under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Final Rule became effective on January 16, 2009, and updates the FMLA regulations to implement new military family leave entitlements enacted under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008.

As part of the changes to the FMLA, all application/certification forms have been revised. Since the new forms are specific to the condition for which an employee is requesting leave, the Benefits Department will no longer be posting the generic forms on our website. To obtain an application form for an FMLA leave of absence, please submit a request via Self-Service Banner (click here to access SSB via the TUportal) or call the Benefits office at 215-926-2282 (Internals Dial: 7-2282).

The Final Regulations implement two important new military family leave entitlements for eligible specified family members:

  1. Up to 12 weeks of leave for certain qualifying exigencies* arising out of a covered military member's active duty status, or notification of an impending call or order to active duty status, in support of a contingency operation, and
  1. Up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember recovering from a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty on active duty. Eligible employees (the immediate family members - spouses, children or parents - of reservists or members of the National Guard) are entitled to a combined total of up to 26 weeks of all types of FMLA leave during the single 12-month period.

*A qualifying exigency is defined as one or more of the following: Short notice (seven days or less) deployment, military events and related activities, childcare, school activities, financial and legal arrangements, counseling, rest and recuperation, post-deployment activities, and any other events which arise out of the covered military member’s active duty or call to active duty status that the employer and employee have agreed upon.

Other highlights of the regulatory changes in the Final Rule include:


Serious Health Condition: The final rul
e retains the six individual definitions of serious health condition while adding guidance on three regulatory matters. One of the definitions of serious health condition involves more than three consecutive, full calendar days of incapacity plus “two visits to a health care provider.” Under the final rule, the two must occur within thirty (30) days of the beginning of the period of incapacity and the first visit to the health care provider must take place within seven (7) days of the first day of incapacity. A second way to satisfy the definition of serious health condition under the current regulations involves more than three consecutive, full calendar days of incapacity plus a regimen of continuing treatment. The final rule clarifies here also that the first visit to the health care provider must take place within seven days of the first day of incapacity. Thirdly, the final rule defines “periodic visits” for chronic serious health conditions as at least two visits to a health care provider per year since that provision is also open-ended in the current regulations and potentially subjects employees to more stringent requirements by employers.

Substitution of Paid Leave: FMLA leave is unpaid. However, the statute provides that employees may take, or employers may require employees to take, any accrued paid vacation, personal, family or medical or sick leave, as offered by their employer, concurrently with any FMLA leave. This is called the “substitution of paid leave.” The current regulations apply different procedural requirements to the use of vacation or personal leave than to medical or sick leave. Complicating matters even further, the Department has treated family leave differently than vacation and personal leave. Accordingly, under the final rule, all forms of paid leave offered by an employer will be treated the same, regardless of the type of leave substituted (including generic “paid time off”). An employee electing to use any type of paid leave concurrently with FMLA leave must follow the same terms and conditions of the employer’s policy that apply to other employees for the use of such leave. The employee is always entitled to unpaid FMLA leave if he or she does not meet the employer’s conditions for taking paid leave and the employer may waive any procedural requirements for the taking of any type of paid leave.

Perfect Attendance Awards: The final rule changes the treatment of perfect attendance awards to allow employers to deny a “perfect attendance” award to an employee who does not have perfect attendance because of taking FMLA leave as long as it treats employees taking non-FMLA leave in an identical way. This addresses the unfairness perceived by employees and employers as a result of requiring an employee to obtain a perfect attendance award for a period during which the employee was absent from the workplace on FMLA leave.

Employer Notice Obligations: The final rule consolidates all the employer notice requirements into a “one-stop” section of the regulations and reconciles some conflicting provisions and time periods under the current regulations. Further, the final rule clarifies and strengthens the employer notice requirements in order to better inform employees and allow for a better exchange of information between employers and employees. Employers will be required to provide employees with a general notice about the FMLA (through a poster, and either an employee handbook or upon hire); an eligibility notice; a rights and responsibilities notice; and a designation notice. In order to ensure employers are able to better inform employees under the new notice provisions, the final rule extends the time for employers to provide various notices from two business days to five business days.

Employee Notice: The final rule provides that an employee needing FMLA leave must follow the employer’s usual and customary call-in procedures for reporting an absence, absent unusual circumstances. The final rule also highlights (without changing) the existing consequences if an employee does not provide proper notice of his or her need for FMLA leave.

Medical Certification Process (Content and Clarification): The Department has added a requirement to the final rule that specifies that the employer’s representative contacting the health care provider must be a health care provider, human resource professional, a leave administrator, or a management official, but in no case may it be the employee’s direct supervisor. Further, employers may not ask health care providers for additional information beyond that required by the certification form. The final rule also improves the exchange of medical information by updating the Department’s optional Form WH-380 to create separate forms for the employee and covered family members and by allowing—but not requiring—health care providers to provide a diagnosis of the patient’s health condition as part of the certification.

In addition, the final rule specifies that if an employer deems a medical certification to be incomplete or insufficient, the employer must specify in writing what information is lacking, and give the employee seven calendar days to cure the deficiency. These changes will improve FMLA communications, protect the privacy of workers, and help ensure that the employees who need leave will get it and not be subject to repeated requests for additional information or be denied FMLA leave on a technicality.

Medical Certification Process (Timing): The final rule codifies a 2005 DOL Wage and Hour Opinion letter that stated that employers may request a new medical certification each leave year for medical conditions that last longer than one year. The final rule also clarifies the applicable time period for recertification. Under the current regulations, employers may generally request a recertification no more often than every thirty (30) days and only in conjunction with an FMLA absence unless a minimum duration of incapacity has been specified in the certification, in which case recertification generally may not be required until the duration specified has passed. Because many stakeholders have indicated that the current regulation is unclear as to the employer’s ability to require recertification when the duration of a condition is described as “lifetime” or “unknown,” the final rule restructures and clarifies the regulatory requirements for recertification. In all cases, the final rule allows an employer to request recertification of an ongoing condition every six months in conjunction with an absence.

Fitness-For-Duty Certifications: The current FMLA regulations allow employers to enforce uniformly-applied policies or practices that require all similarly-situated employees who take leave to provide a certification that they are able to resume work. This is called a “fitness-for-duty” certification. The final rule makes two changes to the fitness-for-duty certification process. First, an employer may require that the certification specifically address the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the employee’s job. Second, where reasonable job safety concerns exist, an employer may require a fitness-for-duty certification before an employee may return to work when the employee takes intermittent leave.

 

 

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