Labor Dept. draws battle lines in the great FMLA fight — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Labor Dept. draws battle lines in the great FMLA fight

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Chances are your employees are happier with the 14-year-old FMLA than you are.
    A new U.S. Labor Department report says employees would like to expand the law to create longer leaves and paid leaves. But employers argue that the law’s vague wording (and employees’ ability to play games with FMLA) create legal and productivity nightmares.
    Here are the main problems employers have with the FMLA, according to Labor’s report, which summarizes more than 15,000 public comments the department received since December on the FMLA’s effectiveness.
   1. Lack of a clear definition of “serious health condition.” Employees can qualify for up to 12 weeks’ unpaid, job-protected FMLA leave if they’re suffering a “serious health condition” or are caring for a child or spouse who has such a condition. But employers complain that the definition is vague and too generous. “Currently, a common illness such as sinusitis might be considered a ‘serious health condition’ in one organization and not in another, both under protection of the FMLA,” explained Susan Meisinger, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. “Without fairness and clarity, the integrity of the FMLA is threatened.”
    2. Productivity problems caused by intermittent leave. As the law allows, employees with chronic health problems often take FMLA leave in short increments of one hour or less. This can cause productivity, scheduling and cost problems, especially in time-sensitive industries such as health care, public safety and transportation. These unscheduled, intermittent leaves, the Labor report says, are “the most serious area of friction between employers and employees seeking to use FMLA leave … no other FMLA issue even comes close.”
    3. Unclear notification requirements. Employees must give 30 days’ notice if their FMLA leave is foreseeable (such as childbirth). But when time off is unexpected, employees need to notify their employers only two working days after they discover their need for leave.
    Outlook: Don’t expect these comments to spur the Labor Department into action. The department has been pondering for years whether to issue clarifying FMLA regulations. Victoria Lipnic, the assistant labor secretary for employment standards, said the department has no immediate plans to propose any new leave regulations.
    “There was a general overall finding that this law works pretty well and is serving a lot of people that it was meant to serve,” Lipnic said.

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