Magazine article Management Review

The FMLA: No Free Vacation

Magazine article Management Review

The FMLA: No Free Vacation

Article excerpt

Boon to many, boondoggle to some. Here's how to ensure your employees don't abuse the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Constipation. Ear infections. Ingrown toenails. Food poisoning. Were these conditions intended to be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The FMLA became effective on August 5, 1993, six months after its enactment. The act was conceived and finally passed because of two overreaching concerns that began to impact corporate America directly: the increasing family needs of the American workforce along with the development of high-performance work organizations. Although many old-world business theorists believe that the two matters are incompatible, they actually are with some adjustments.

As to the purpose of the FMLA, there appears to be a direct correlation between stability in the family and productivity in the workplace. The FMLA was established so that workers would not have to choose between their jobs and taking off the needed time to attend to a sick child, elderly parents or their own serious health problems. Although the act's intentions are good, there are many workers who are abusing its protections and using its broadly based language in ways that were not intended by the sponsors of the law, creating more problems.

According to the House Opportunities Committee, misapplications of the FMLA have caused millions of dollars in lost productivity. Much of this is the result of excessive absenteeism. Neither is what the law envisioned. So many people have been successful in taking off up to 12 weeks for problems not intended to be covered by the FMLA, it is difficult to imagine that President Clinton, in his next State of the Union address, will attempt to extend the law's coverage even more. Since the FMLA affects about 45 million workers, the trouble is not increasing coverage but preventing misuse.

FMLA in a Nutshell

The FMLA requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for childbirth, adoption, their own serious illness or that of a close family member. Employees are eligible if they have worked for a covered employer for at least one year and for 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months and if there are at least 50 employees working for the employer within 75 miles.

The protections of the FMLA are not automatic and may be denied in certain circumstances. For example, a covered employer is not required to extend FMLA protections if the employee fails to give advance notice of a foreseeable need for leave, doesn't provide requested medical certification in a timely manner, ignores providing a requested fitness-for-duty certification to return to work, is a key employee, or uses fraudulent means to obtain leave under the FMLA.

Making the Cut

The legislative history of any law contains the transcripts of the testimony and conference reports pertaining to the law being proposed. It explains why the law was conceived and what wrong, or wrongs, it hopes to correct. The legislative history of the FMLA recounts the stories of many people who lost their jobs because of their own or a family member's serious illness to which they needed to attend.

In one instance, a young mother who needed to give constant care to her 2-month-old baby, who was on oxygen and a heart monitor, was denied leave by her employer. Another woman lost her job because she needed some time off during the day to take an elderly parent to the doctor. A man spoke of making arrangements with his supervisor to take three-and-a-half days off to take his recently adopted 2-month-old daughter with Down syndrome to a hospital more than 100 miles away for bypass surgery. On the final day of the hospital visit, he lost his job. In another case, a woman was discharged for losing work due to chemotherapy treatments she needed to combat cancer. In total, she lost only two weeks of work in 10 years of employment at the same company. …

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