FMLA: Forgetting Minutiae Leads to (legal) Actions

This post was co-authored by Jennifer Fowler-Hermes and John Getty.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (or the FMLA) is often viewed as a convoluted maze of arcane rules. Generally, the FMLA requires covered employers provide qualifying employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain qualifying events. This simple explanation belies how technical the FMLA can be. Because it is very technical, the FMLA is one of the laws that employers most frequently ask questions about. Taking one wrong turn can easily lead to employer liability. This post is the first in a series to help employers stay on the right path.

In this series, we will review not only the basics of the FMLA, but also several areas where employers often go astray. Our journey through the FMLA starts with a handy map summarizing the steps an employer should follow when dealing with the FMLA labyrinth.

Step 1:  An employer determines whether or not it is a covered employer.

Step 2:  If it is covered, an employer should then prepare and share an FMLA leave policy with its employees and must post certain notices to its employees.

Step 3: If an employee requests FMLA leave, or the employer learns that an employee’s absence may be for a qualifying reason, then a covered employer must determine whether the employee is eligible for FMLA leave. If the employee is not eligible, the employer must notify the employee of the decision and utilize the appropriate designation form. If the employee is eligible, the employer must proceed to the next step.

Step 4: Provide the employee eligibility and rights and responsibilities notices to the employee.

Step 5:  The employer must then determine if the leave request is for an FMLA-qualifying reason.

Step 6: The employer should determine whether the employee qualifies as a “key employee” for whom specialized rules apply. Key employees will be addressed in a separate post in this series.

Step 7: The employer may require the employee go through a certification process, which is optional.

  • If the certification process is utilized, then the employer should notify the employee about the certification and provide time for certification.

Step 8: The employer must either grant or deny the leave request and provide a designation notice to the employee.

Step 9: After leave is granted, then the employer must:

  • Restore the employee to the same or an equivalent position at the end of the leave (unless the employee is a “key” employee); and
  • Maintain benefits during the leave (with exemptions – which will be discussed later in the series).

Step 10: Maintain records for the entire decision-making process.

Because it’s part of the first step in navigating the FMLA maze, and it represents a core concept of the FMLA, below you will find a serious of questions and answers designed to assist in understanding the concept of the “covered employer.”

What is a covered employer? 

It’s an  employer that has legal obligations under the FMLA.

Who are covered employers?

There are a couple types of covered employers subject to the provisions of the FMLA. One of the main covered employers are private employers with 50 or more employees during 20 or more workweeks in the current or previous calendar year.

Public agencies, regardless of the number of employees the public agency employs (public agencies include state, local and federal employers, and local educational agencies), are also covered employers. In addition, public and private elementary and secondary schools are covered employers, regardless of the number of persons employed.

Finally, covered employers also include any person who acts in the interest of the employer toward any of the employees of such employer, and any successor in interest of the employer.

How does a private-employer count employees to determine coverage?

With few exemptions, any employee whose name appears on the employer’s payroll will be considered employed each working day of the calendar week and must be counted regardless of whether compensation is received for the week. However, employees added to the payroll after the beginning of a calendar week or terminated before the end of a calendar week are not counted.

There are special issues that arise when an employer does not by itself have the requisite number of employees but is considered a joint employer with a second company. For example, when two or more businesses exert control over the workplace or working conditions, it is possible that the employees of both businesses are counted together.

What about employees on paid or unpaid leave?

They are counted so long as the employer reasonably expects the employee to return later to active employment.

Does the same rule apply for employees on disciplinary suspensions?

Yes, again, so long as the employer reasonably expects the employee to return later to active employment, the employee is counted.

What about employees who are laid off?

Employees on temporary or permanent layoff are not counted.

The questions and answers above summarize the main issues with that crop up at Step 1.

*The next FMLA post in this series will skip ahead to Step 3 and address what makes someone an employee eligible for FMLA leave, since it is one of the other important concepts to understand while navigating the FMLA.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

John Getty
jgetty@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6622