The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was eight long years in the making. After many bitter debates between the Republicans and Democrats, Congress passed the Act on February 4, 1993. President Clinton signed the measure into law the following day. The Act became effective on August 5, 1993. The Act required employers with fifty or more employees within a seventy-five mile radius to offer eligible employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave during a twelve month period for a variety of medical reasons.
Some of the general medical reasons are, for the birth or adoption, to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse or child or to undergo medical treatment for their own illness. The Act spelled out provisions on employer coverage; employee eligibility for the law’s benefits; entitlement to leave, maintenance of health benefits during leave, and job restoration after leave; notice and certification of the need for FMLA leave; and protection for employees who request or take FMLA leave. (1) The law also requires employers to keep certain records.
It was estimated that the Act would affect five percent of America’s employers and forty percent of all employees. This paper will show the ethical standpoint on how employers handle FMLA. In addition, this paper will show the progress FMLA has made in five years, becoming more ethically correct. Many employers have been baffled as they attempt to sort through the overlapping obligations created when a sick or injured worker’s medical condition triggers the different rights and responsibilities under new federal laws.
If businesses want to avoid costly lawsuits from disgruntled employees it is essential to understand their responsibilities under the laws. Employers must make a two-part analysis to determine which laws apply to the situation. Just because an employee qualifies under one law does not mean the employee will automatically qualify under another. To reduce problems, employers should give injured workers notice of their rights under the FMLA if the injury appears to qualify under both statutes.
The protected leave provided by the FMLA may run concurrently while an injured worker receives worker’s compensation benefits, but only if the employer gives proper notification to an employee before the individual returns to work. Otherwise, the employee retains all FMLA rights for any future problems or a reoccurrence of the original injury. This can be a problem when the employee takes FMLA leave “intermittently,” to receive rehabilitative services or other treatments.
It is essential that front line supervisors be made aware of the basic provisions of these laws to head off misunderstandings. Supervisor training is especially important since and employee is not required to make a specific request for FMLA leave in order to be protected. A uniform policy and supervisory training should help prepare an employer to handle these complex issues. The employer’s ethical responsibility is to post notices of employee rights and responsibilities under the FMLA.