The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is a United States Labor Law that was implemented to assist families in need of balancing the demands of their career and home. Eligibility begins after 12 months of employment with a singular company, 1,250 hours worked during that 12-month period, and with which that company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. Both public and private sectors are covered, but there are exclusions.

The Act appears to be straight forward, and moderately transparent, but it’s not. Controversy, contrived or perceived, is flourishing within the mandates of the Act, and continue to advance. With the development of new social norms and technology, mandates are under persistent construction, and reconstruction, and out of this process is birthed exceptions, liability and risk increases, along with expensive lawsuits.

Businesses are in full-sprint to keep up with the flexing laws, and an honest mistake can take an unexpected, and financially burdening turn. Today, we need to meticulously monitor our documentation concerning employees’ performance, ensure that our managers are speaking in the most political correct style possible, and that our HR and payroll departments have an intimate knowledge of the arching standards and updates to labor laws and the FMLA.

As you navigate your operational objectives and lead your team, here are some areas that may require more resolute approach to the details.

Language

How we speak and move, and the facial expressions and tone we use are all forms of language. We are continually communicating in some form or fashion. Upon the request for FMLA Leave, it is critical to only discuss the facts about your employees’ issue and why they need a leave of absence. There should be no recourse for an interference claim due to federal comments. Here are a few examples of what not to do. Don’t say:

  • We expect you to be here
  • That you are concerned or frustrated with FMLA occurrences
  • Try to play doctor
  • Speculate

Performance

There are recorded instances where well-documented performance issues have led to termination after an FMLA that had nothing to do with the Leave itself. As a result, a retaliation suit was filed. A common case is Woods v. Start Treatment & Recovery Centers.

Instances such as Woods v. Start Treatment & Recovery Centers tolerate, and often create, blurred lines and ambiguity. The employees’ performance documentation needs to be thorough – have a defined timeline and outline of the process and actions taken during the probation period. Each action and next step of the process must be recorded as if you were going to be investigated or go to court.

Accuracy

We live in an era where time is short, and getting shorter. Technology has increased our ability to process, sell, market, and fit more tasks into our day. It has also disconnected us from our normal ability to pay close attention to the details – the devil is in the details is a well-suited idiom for today’s fast-paced lifestyle.

Mistakes are common, even before our lives entered warp speed, and are anticipated. However, when managing complex situations and operational tasks, honest mistakes can quickly become very expensive mistakes.

It’s a business best practice to take the time to double and triple check your documentation and pay records. If you catch yourself saying, “I don’t have time for this”, it’s time to outsource that department of your business.

In closing, regulations and standards are changing rapidly. If you don’t have the time, make the time. If you can’t make the time, then outsource. This simple awareness and action displays loyalty and commitment to your team, and could save you the cost of an innocent mistake.

Staff training is of critical essence. There is never enough knowledge! Understanding processes, how to improve processes with legislative updates, and being prepared for almost any situation will minimize risk in your organization.

Awareness is paramount.