In case of emergency Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993, has been a welcome benefit to eligible employees because it offers job protection and the ability to address certain personal or family health issues. However, it can present some challenges to employers who are required to track the consecutive and intermittent time an employee uses for FMLA.

Smart Business spoke with Bill Berenson, vice president of sales and service for Aetna’s Small & Middle Market Business for the North Central Region, about employee rights under FMLA as well as how companies can maintain compliance with the law.

What rights do employers and employees have under FMLA?

Covered employers are required to grant up to 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period to eligible employees, and employees may elect to take their 12 weeks in consecutive or intermittent intervals. Some companies track intermittent to as low as 15-minute intervals. An eligible employee is entitled to the leave for any of the following reasons:

 

  • Birth of a child and the care for the newborn child, within the first 12 months of life

     

     

  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care, within the first 12 months of placement

     

     

  • Care for spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition

     

     

  • A serious health condition of the employee

     

The law also requires the employer to maintain an employee’s current health benefit plan.

What should employers do to make sure they comply with FMLA laws? How can they stay informed of any changes, amendments or enhancements to FMLA?

Companies may want to consider having a member or members of their staff oversee FMLA compliance. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site (www.dol.gov) contains valuable information, including an outline of FMLA regulations and tools for FMLA compliance at the federal and state levels (www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/).

Another option for employers is engaging local counsel to whom the company can bring challenging FMLA issues as they arise.

Insurers, as part of their offerings, also maintain FMLA compliance for their customers.

What programs or services do insurers offer to help companies navigate FMLA?

Some insurers like Aetna provide a range of services, including:

 

  • Information on how FMLA works, employee education about their rights under FMLA and lists of whom to contact for more information

     

     

  • Compliance with state and federal regulations governing family and medical leave

     

     

  • Statistical analysis of FMLA usage and trends

     

     

  • Utilization of information from short-term disability (STD) claims to help determine eligibility for FMLA

     

Why is it difficult for employers to comply with these laws?

The difficulty lies in tracking the time an employee uses for FMLA leave. An eligible employee can choose to take 12 weeks in one lump sum or on an intermittent basis, such as three days a month or four hours one day a week. When the time is used intermittently, it becomes increasingly difficult to track.

For example, an eligible employee who suffers from migraines may be approved for up to 16 hours of leave per month; thus this employee may find it necessary to leave work one hour early because of the severity of the condition. An employer must track that one hour as FMLA leave. The individual could choose to leave 15 minutes early, but the employer must still track that for FMLA purposes to count against the approved time of the employee.

What are the risks of not complying with FMLA laws? Are there fines?

Companies have been penalized for failing to comply with the FMLA. During the period 2001 through 2005, employees filed nearly 16,000 FMLA complaints with the Department of Labor. As a result, the DOL says it collected approximately $13.2 million in back pay for FMLA violations during fiscal years 2001 through 2005.

BILL BERENSON is vice president of sales and service for Aetna’s Small & Middle Market Business in the North Central Region. Reach him at (312) 928-3323 or berensonw@aetna.com.