Tag Archives: Family and Medical Leave Act

No Fooling: DOL Proposes New Rule to Determine Joint-Employer Status

As a rule of thumb, skepticism is in order for any news blasted out on April Fool’s Day. For that reason, you could easily believe that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) was joining in the tomfoolery this year when it issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on April 1, 2019 to address joint employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), but, that wasn’t the case.

Through its April 1, 2019 notice, the DOL seeks to revise regulations on joint employment issues. A joint employer is any additional individual or entity who is equally liable with the employer for the employee’s wages, including minimum wages and overtime. Presently, the regulations state that multiple persons or companies can be joint employers if they are “not completely disassociated” with respect to the employment of an employee. The phrase “not completely disassociated” is not clearly explained in the regulations, which has led to thorny issues when dealing with the employees of subcontractors, franchisees, and similar relationships.

To address such issues, the DOL proposes a four-factor analysis that considers whether the employer actually exercises the power to:

  • Hire and fire an employee;
  • supervise and control an employee’s work schedules or conditions of employment;
  • determine the employee’s rate and method of payment; and
  • maintain the employee’s employment records.

The DOL indicates that there are other factors that should and should not be considered. It also clarifies certain business models and practices or contractual language that does not make a joint employer status more or less likely. A Fact Sheet issued with this proposed rule does a fair job of summarizing the other factors. For example, the DOL indicates that just because a company reserves the right in a contract to exercise control over another company’s workers does not—by itself—make a company more or less likely to be considered a joint employer. Rather, a company must actually exercise the contractual control to become a joint employer. Likewise, the DOL notes that just because a company can require another contracting party to institute anti-harassment policies, workplace safety measures, or wage floors does not make it more or less likely the two companies are joint employers.

The April 1, 2019 notice began the notice-and-comment process. The DOL will accept comments from interested parties for 60 days. The public will be able to provide electronic comments at www.regulations.gov (after searching for RIN no. 1235-AA26) or via mail addressed to:

Division of Regulations, Legislation, and Interpretation
Wage and Hour Division
U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3502
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

(identifying in the written comment (1) the Wage and Hour Division, United States Department of Labor; and (2) RIN no. 1235-AA26).

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

FMLA: Forgetting Minutiae Leads to (legal) Actions – Part II

As we continue through the convoluted maze of arcane rules known as the FMLA, we turn our focus to what makes an employee eligible for FMLA leave.

Generally, an employee of a covered employer is eligible to take FMLA leave, if the employee satisfies three requirements. They are:

(1)  the employee has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months;

(2)  the employee has been employed by the employer at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12-month period immediately preceding the commencement of the leave; and

(3)  the employee is employed at a worksite where 50 or more employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles of the worksite.

These requirements do not apply to flight attendants and flight crew members. Persons in such positions are subject to special eligibility requirements that are not covered in this series.

Although these three requirements may seem pretty straightforward, they are not as clear cut as they appear. Accordingly, below you will find a few questions and answers designed to assist in understanding the concept of the “covered employee.”

Does the 12 months of service have to be consecutive?

No. The 12 months of service need not be consecutive. Generally, any combination of 52 weeks equals 12 months. Even so, a seven year break in service with the employer generally cuts off any prior service except in certain limited circumstances. Such circumstances include, but are not limited to, military service covered by The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) or written agreement, including a collective bargaining agreement.

When should it be determined if the employee meets the months of service requirement?

The determination of whether an employee has been employed by the employer for a total of 12 months must be made as of the date the FMLA leave is to start.

How are the hours of service calculated?

The FLMA’s definition of “hours of service” applies for the calculation of 1,250 hours. Accordingly, hours of service does not include those hours for which an employee is paid but does not work, such as holidays, paid vacation, and sick leave. Hours worked does include time worked as a part-time, temporary, or seasonal employee.

An employee returning from USERRA-covered military service is credited with the hours of service that would have been performed but for the period of absence from work due to or necessitated by USERRA-covered service in determining the employee’s eligibility for FMLA-qualifying leave.

If an issue arises with respect to employee coverage, the Department of Labor takes the position that the employer has the burden of showing that the employee has not met the hours of service requirement.

When should it be determined if the employee meets the hours of service requirement?

The determination of whether an employee meets the hours of service requirement must be made as of the date the requested FMLA leave is to start.

How does an employer determine if there are 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of employee’s worksite?

First, it has to be determined where the employee’s worksite is. An employee’s worksite is the site where an employee reports. If the employee does not travel to a specific location to work, then the worksite is the location from where the employee receives assignments.

For employees with no fixed worksite (e.g., construction workers, transportation workers, salespersons), the worksite is the site that is assigned as their home base, from which their work is assigned, or to which they report. With very few exemptions, an employee’s personal residence is not considered a worksite.

The 75-mile distance is measured by surface miles, using surface transportation over public streets, roads, highways, and waterways, by the shortest route from the facility where the employee needing leave is employed.

While public-sector employers are covered regardless of the number of employees employed, to be an eligible employee entitled to take FMLA leave, the public-sector employee must still be employed at a worksite in which the employer employs at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

When should an employer determine if there are 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of employee’s worksite?

The determination of whether 50 employees are employed within 75 miles of the worksite is made when the employee gives notice of the need for leave.

What happens when an employee does not meet all three requirements until after the employee’s need for leave has begun?

An employee’s full FMLA rights are triggered as of FMLA eligibility. An employer cannot designate leave happening before the eligibility date as FMLA leave; and therefore, the employee becomes entitled to the full 12 weeks of FMLA leave in addition to any previously taken leave.

The first post in our series on FMLA summarized the steps an employer should follow when dealing with the FMLA labyrinth. The next FMLA posts in this series will address the FMLA’s original qualifying reasons for leave and then the qualifying reasons added in 2008.

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

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

Guidance for Employers from the Dark Side?

A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far away, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act. Since then, Congress has continued to pass laws governing the employee/employer relationship. In 1938, it passed the Fair Labor Standards Act; in 1964, it passed the Civil Rights Act; and in 1993, it passed the Family and Medical Leave Act. These acts and many others can make businesses feel like they have been thrown into a trash compacter or frozen in carbonate. Management attorneys, a.k.a the light side of the force, provide guidance and counsel to businesses and assist in navigating these laws which seem to appear and/or change as if powered by a hyper drive. On Thursday, April 27, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Michael’s on East in Sarasota, businesses will have an opportunity to learn about recent developments and current trends related to wage and hour compliance, employee criminal conduct, and sexual orientation and gender identity not only from their Jedi, but also from a Sith, a.k.a. a plaintiff’s employment attorney. It is not often that businesses have an opportunity to learn from both sides of the Force.

This seminar will provide guidance in important areas of employment law to assist professional service providers in their role as employers. The workshop will include best practices from legal compliance and human resources perspectives, and will conclude with a Sith providing insight into employers’ mistakes that strengthen the dark side. This seminar is intended to be an interactive presentation with the aim of providing solutions to troublesome employment issues confronting law firms and other professional service providers. To learn more about this event and to register, visit the Sarasota County Bar Association website.

Disclaimer: This seminar does not have a Star Wars theme; I just watched The Force Awakens on HBO this weekend.

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

How Well Do You Know Intermittent FMLA Leave?

A recent Family and Medical Leave Act case decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals offers some clarity on one of the most challenging aspects of administering FMLA, the dreaded intermittent leave. Intermittent leave is when an employee takes leave on an intermittent basis or a reduced schedule when medically necessary to care for a seriously ill family member, covered service member, or because of the employee’s own serious health condition.

The 11th Circuit’s recent case involved an employer that provides in-home healthcare services to the terminally ill and an employee that worked as a clinical social worker with many duties relating to care plans for the employer’s terminally ill patients. The employee requested intermittent leave to care for her elderly mother who was quite ill. The employer approved her leave request.

The employer’s leave policies required employees use PTO concurrently with an approved medical leave. In the six months following her initial request for leave, the employee frequently received notices from her employer keeping her advised of her PTO usage and letting her know when her PTO balance was low. It also reminded her that exhaustion of PTO, along with absences, could adversely impact her job and benefits.

Ten months after her initial request for leave, the employer requested not only an updated certification, but also additional documentation “to support the need of intermittent use of FMLA.” Shortly thereafter, the employer advised the employee that her leave entitlement was running low, that she may want to conserve her remaining FMLA leave, and that her continued time away from the workplace compromised the quality of care being provided to patients. Shortly thereafter, the employee altered the plans she had made to care for her mother, choosing not to take an approved leave.

Eleven months after she began using intermittent leave the employee was separated from her employment. She was informed that she was separated for poor performance. Her performance issues were documented by the employer. These issues included care plans not being timely updated, a patient without a care plan, time sheets for patient visits not being timely completed, and failure to coordinate the bereavement group. However, just days before her separation, the employer mentioned in a discussion regarding her performance issues, that “’quality of care’ [was] suffering due to repeated ‘emergent’ leaves of absence.”

How did the court evaluate these facts when the employee asserted an interference claim? Did it find that the employer’s record of performance issues supported the decision to terminate? Did it find that the employer interfered with the employee’s use of her FMLA entitlement? Need some help? Well, here are some FMLA facts that may assist in analyzing this fact pattern:

  • The regulations provide that when an employee takes unforeseeable FMLA leave, the employee must notify the employer as soon as practicable in compliance with the employer’s usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave.
  • The regulations interpreting the FMLA provide that, aside from an annual re-certification, an employer is prohibited from obtaining additional documentation from the healthcare provider once a complete and sufficient medical certification has been obtained.
  • If there is an existing certification, an employee’s notice to the employer that there is a recurrence of the need for leave, is sufficient notice to the employer.
  • When an employee’s FMLA leave entitlement is exhausted, any further absences are not subject to the protections of the FMLA.
  • An interference claim is established when an employee shows that she was denied a benefit to which she was entitled. Benefits under the FMLA include taking leave and being reinstated following a leave period (subject to certain restrictions).
  • Unlike retaliation claims, intent is not relevant to an interference claim. Interfering in an employee’s ability to take leave encompasses not only refusing to authorize such leave when an employee is qualified, but also discouraging an employee from using such leave.
  • To recover for interference, an employee must show that she was harmed by the interference.

Although the district court granted summary judgment for the employer on the employee’s interference claim, the 11th Circuit Court reversed. The 11th Circuit found that many of the employer’s statements, such as, “[y]our continued unpaid time away from the workplace compromises the quality of care we are able to provide as an organization,” discouraged the employee from using the time she was entitled to. Further, since the employee was terminated, she suffered damage.

So, you ask, how does this case provide clarity? For one, it affirms that generally employers should not be requesting additional documentation from an employee already on an approved intermittent leave. Second, employers should avoid making statements that may be interpreted as discouraging the use of leave. Next, when discussing performance issues with an employee on an intermittent leave employers should not provide a causal connection between the leave and the performance issue, i.e., focus on a discussion of the performance difficulty and ascertain what can be done by the employee (other than to stop missing so much work) to improve performance. Finally, do not forget that during the period of intermittent leave, the employer may require the employee to transfer temporarily to an available alternative position with equivalent pay and benefits, for which she is qualified and which better accommodates the intermittent nature of the leave.