On June 27, 2012, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a new guidebook intended to assist employers and employees with navigating the historically complicated Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Titled “The Employee’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act”, the guidebook uses a “plain language” approach to explain and analyze the rights granted by the FMLA. The guidebook does not change any of the FMLA’s regulations but rather attempts to set out the FMLA’s requirements in simple terms for the asserted benefit of employees and employers alike.
Nancy Leppink, the DOL Wage and Hour Administrator, spoke about the guidebook during a recent webinar hosted by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. She stated that the DOL recognizes that the individuals who utilize FMLA leave are “not just workers” but also parents, grandparents, spouses, and children. A partnership between employers and employees is “required to successfully navigate the FMLA,” Leppink commented. The 16-page guide includes a flow chart that employees can follow to determine if they are eligible for FMLA leave and a description of the circumstances under which an employee can use FMLA leave. It also provides information about the FMLA’s most significant issues, including sections that cover how employees request FMLA leave, medical certifications, and return to work requirements.
The DOL hopes that the new guidebook will benefit both employers and employees. Employees mainly will use the guidebook as a reference to determine their initial rights under the FMLA, such as whether they are eligible for and when they can use FMLA leave. The manual provides a good reminder to employees that they must meet certain basic requirements to be eligible for FMLA leave, including that they must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months. The DOL also encourages employees to take a copy of the guidebook to their medical provider because there is a detailed explanation, including an illustrative flow chart, describing the medical certification process. Employers are encouraged to use the guidebook to understand their workers’ rights and how the FMLA can benefit their workplace. According to a recent study released on June 25, 2012 by Workplace Options, work-life balance is becoming increasingly important to employees. In fact, thirty-four percent (34%) of employees stated that they would consider leaving their current work situation for another company with more work-life benefits.
Employers should be aware that this new guidebook provides employees with an easy-to-use manual to determine whether they are entitled to FMLA leave, equipping employees with a simple guide to “check” their employer’s FMLA decisions. In fact, the end of the manual outlines how an employee can file a complaint with the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division if the employee believes that his or her FMLA rights were violated. Employers will likely see an increase in the number of employees requesting FMLA leave because the manual provides employees with a simplified version of their leave rights. As always, employers must be cautious when dealing with an employee who has requested FMLA leave. Employers are not permitted to interfere with an employee’s FMLA rights (for example, they cannot deny an employee’s request to take FMLA leave when the employee is otherwise eligible) or retaliate against an employee for taking FMLA. Thus, employers are encouraged to undertake extra care when analyzing an FMLA request and be cognizant of the fact that their employees now have at their disposal a handy reference tool to quickly and easily check the FMLA’s most basic requirements.
The guidebook is available on the DOL’s website. Only an English version is currently available but a Spanish version will be issued soon. The DOL stated that a guidebook concerning military FMLA leave will be provided in the future.