Laws regulating employee time off can be found at both the state and federal level, and an understanding of both sets is imperative for compliance. Federally, the Family and Medical Leave Act sets the standard and must be adhered to by companies who employ 50 or more individuals. State guidelines are many and varied, and some states have no additional rules at all. Those states that do impose a second set of laws always match or exceed benefits offered by federal regulations. Understanding which laws apply and how they work together and separately is the responsibility of the employer, as is the correct implementation of each set of guidelines. When laws differ, they usually part courses regarding amount of time off, notification requirements and certification conditions.
Amount of Time Off
Federal law provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for each qualifying employee per year. This time can be taken for several reasons:
- To care for or bond with a new child
- To recover from a serious personal health condition
- To care for a family member with a serious health issue
- To care for an elderly parent
- To attend to a family member who was seriously injured during military service
In order to qualify for these benefits, employees must meet a certain set of criteria:
- Must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months
- Must have logged at least 1,250 hours during the past 12 months
- Must work for an employer with at least 50 employees living within a 75-mile radius
- Must meet special federal guidelines if employed by a local educational organization
While many state laws mirror the federal guidelines, some states offer additional benefits, such as paid leave for certain conditions (pregnancy disability) or time off for small necessities (attending school functions, taking children to medical appointments). Many of the state regulations mirror the FMLA, but make the scope broader by requiring the compliance of smaller companies. Other states include time off for adoptive parents and those trying to recover from or flee domestic violence. Some states expand the allowable reasons to include caring for a brother, sister or other close family member.
Notification and Certification Requirements
Both the employee and employer must follow certain notification patterns in order to comply with FMLA regulations. Employees must give advanced or “reasonable” notice according to federal guidelines, but states may allow for more lenient notification deadlines. Whenever there are two sets of laws, employers must follow the set of rules that allows the most leniencies for employees.
The same logic applies for certification requirements. Employers may require workers with a serious health condition to provide return-to-work certification under FMLA laws. When states adjust these rules, employers must be sure to stay within local guidelines in order to be considered in compliance with the law.
When Two Sets of Laws Apply
In many cases, both sets of laws will apply to an employee’s situation. In this case, the time off may be counted against both the state and FMLA leave balances. For instance, if a woman living in a state that allows 12 weeks of leave takes 12 weeks off to care for her newborn child, she will have exhausted both her state and federal allocations. However, if the same state laws allow for her to care for an ill sister, that time would not be subtracted from her FMLA balance, because FMLA law does not provide time off for the care of siblings. In any instance where the situation is allowed by the state but is not covered by federal guidelines, the time off may only count against state time, and the employee will retain all 12 weeks of federal time.
The burden of understanding, interpreting and applying the laws regarding time off for family and medical leave lies with the employer. In cases where laws overlap, the rule that offers more benefits for the worker should be applied.
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