Making FMLA Policies Compatible with the Changing Times
FMLA, otherwise known as the Family and Medical Leave Act, provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. This includes maintaining the individual’s group health benefits during that annual period. Eligibility for FMLA depends on an employee working for an employer for at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months and working at a location where the company employs 50 or more people within 75 miles.
- For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
- For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
- To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition
- To take medical leave when an employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition
One common use of FMLA is maternity leave. This leave allows time off from work because of pregnancy and/or complications of pregnancy. Depending on the policy, some companies also offer paternity leave for spouses. The availability of paternity leave is far from universal and varies greatly from employer to employer.
That availability, or lack thereof, may change as the result of a recent lawsuit from a father requesting equal parental leave. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of male employees against JP Morgan Chase. The suit, which resulting in a $5 million settlement, sought equal access to parental leave. As the third lawsuit of this kind and the largest settlement to date, a Washington Post article questioned if the outcome of the JP Morgan Chase suit could speed up a larger trend demanding clearer gender-neutral policies for new parents.
The high-profile nature of the JP Morgan Chase suit has the potential to create larger ripples around FMLA policies. Companies who haven’t updated their FMLA handbooks are in danger of finding out the hard way that their policies might not reflect changing times and ideals as in the case of paternity leave and adoptions by same-sex couples.
FMLA policies should also reflect if the requested leave is foreseeable or unforeseeable. An employee and an employer should clearly state and agree upon the amount of FMLA leave requested. Employees who do not reach a written understanding of when they will return to work risk the loss of employment when the leave is completed. Many HR experts suggest using written email to conduct FMLA check-ins, rather than a phone conversation.
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