Federal Employee Safety, Health, and Welfare Law in the United States

Federal Employee Safety, Health, and Welfare Law in the United States

Among the many federal laws that affect employers are the Federal Medical Leave Act of 1983 (FMLA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (OSHA). Each of these laws provides for obligations and rights for employers and employees working in the United States. Both of these laws are extensive and consequently complicated, but both are designed to protect the safety and needs of employees while not providing an undue burden on employers. Instead of guaranteeing all rights to all employees smaller employers are often exempted completely or have less rigid restrictions to prevent costs of complying with the laws from being so high that employers are forced out of business.

Essentially the FMLA requires that covered employers must grant up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees during any twelve month period for specified reasons. First, if the employee wishes to remain at home to care for the employee’s newborn child, the leave must be granted. Similarly if the employee has adopted a child or a foster child has been placed in the employee’s home and the employee wants to stay at home to care for the child, he or she must be allowed to do so. If the employee wishes to remain at home to care for an immediate family member, the employer is required to allow the employee to do so. Finally, if an employee is ill and unable to work due to a serious injury or health condition. It is worth noting that for the first three conditions the option to take leave is at the discretion of the employee; there does not have to be a medical need for the employee to take leave, merely the wish to take leave is enough for requiring leave to be granted (FMLA). FMLA also requires covered employers to keep records acceptable records of the employee’s work history as well as records of requests for unpaid leave. An employee must give thirty days notice where practicable such as in the case adoptions and full term pregnancies, however this requirement is waived in cases of emergencies.

Naturally much of the substance of the law lies in the definition of key terms. According to section 29 CFR 825.14 of the FMLA a “covered employer” is an employer “engaged in commerce or in any industry or affecting commerce” who employs fifty or more employees during every workday for at least twenty weeks. Public agencies and schools are covered regardless of how many people are employed (FMLA). It is unclear whether or not an employer engages in industry or commerce such as a charitable foundation is covered or not. Section 29 CFR 825.110 defines an “eligible employee” is an employee has been employed by a covered employee for at least twelve months, has worked for 1,250 during the twelve months period before the beginning of the leave, and works at a jobsite where there are at least fifty or more employees within seventy-five miles of that jobsite (FMLA). The employee must meet all three of these conditions to be eligible.

The named purpose for OSHA is “[t]o assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” To do this OSHA establishes standards of safety that employers must comply with. In addition OSHA law authorizes enforcement of these standards as rules of law. OSHA has the authority to inspect worksites on short notice and to halt work where conditions are unsafe. Besides working nationally, OSHA helps individual states in their efforts to provide safe working conditions, and to provide research, information, education, and training in areas of health and safety. Section eighteen of OSHA allows individual states to set up programs of their own. These programs are supplemented by and monitored by the federal government if necessary. OSHA dwarfs FMLA as far as size and complexity. In part this is because of its having been part of law since 1970, but the frequency of injuries and hazards where OSHA standards come into play are far more frequent than requests for personal medical leave (OSHA). OSHA is not just oriented toward the employer, there are requirements for employees as well. Standard 1910.10 dictates that employees comply with standards and use safety equipment as directed. Employees have a right to report violations under OSHA while under the protection of whistle-blower laws. In addition employees must be paid while trained and fulfilling OSHA standards (OSHA).

Although at times employers view both FMLA and OSHA as being prohibitively expensive, the reality is that OSHA standards save many employers money by reducing hours lost to injuries and reducing state industrial insurance rates. Benefits to employers because FMLA are less tangible but are likely to create happier, healthier employees which positively affects employers as well.


United States Department of Labor. (2007). Employment Standards Administration. Retrieved May 20, 2007 from the Word Wide Web: http://www.dol.gov/esa/.United States Department of Justice. (2007, 16 May). ADA Homepage. Retrieved May 20, 2007 from the Word Wide Web: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm.