Most American workers are aware of the existence of the Family Medical Act (FMLA). While they may not be familiar with the specific details, they know that FMLA provides for employees to take leave from their job for family and medical reasons. The details, of course, are extremely important in determining whether an employee’s leave qualifies under the FMLA. Perhaps more important, though, is first establishing whether the employer is even subject to the law’s requirements.
It may come as a surprise that the FMLA does not apply to all business owners or even all employers. It is only applicable to employers who meet the act’s definition of a “covered employer.” Under the FMLA this refers to:
Private employers with at least 50 employees;
Public or government agencies, with no minimum number of employees;
Elementary and high schools, either public or private, with no minimum number of employees.
Mandatory Communication Requirements
Employees, fortunately, do not have to wonder or guess if their employer is a covered employer. The law requires all covered employers to provide their employees certain notices regarding FMLA to insure the employee is aware of applicable rights and responsibilities.
The first required notification, and typically the most obvious in any workplace, is a poster in plain view of all employees and applicants. Covered employers may use a poster provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, or any other they choose, as long as the provisions of the FMLA and information on how to file complaints are included. The same general information from the poster must also be provided to employees directly, in an employee handbook, for example, or in a handout to new hires.
In addition to the general notice, a covered employer must also provide specific information to an employee when he or she requests their first FMLA-related leave each year. Within five business days of the request, the employer must notify the employee of their eligibility status, and if not eligible for leave, provide at least one reason why not. The employee must also receive, in writing, a list of specified rights and responsibilities including such issues as certification, using paid or unpaid leave, insurance premiums, and maintaining benefits.
A covered employer is ultimately responsible for designating whether or not leave qualifies as FMLA leave. Written notice of the determination must be given to the employee quickly, must be given for each qualifying reason per year, must clarify any paid leave, and must provide, if possible, the amount of leave being counted under FMLA. If the leave does not meet the qualifying criteria, or the employer is unable to determine if it does, the employee must also be notified in writing.
Maintaining open lines of communication between an employer and employees not only provides a healthier work environment, but reduces confusion in the event leave becomes necessary. Though it may simply seem to be a matter of courtesy, the law does require covered employers to respond employees’ questions regarding FMLA. An employee with the proper information is less likely to be surprised by complications that may arise in a possible FMLA situation.
If you are business owner and your employees are asking for information on FMLA, you may need help. Contact an experienced Illinois employment law attorney at the Miller Law Firm, P.C. today and we can help make sure you and your team enjoy all the protection the law provides.