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Helping Your Clients Understand the Family Medical Leave Act

Tuesday, June 5, 2018
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For many employers, there is nothing more intimidating than trying to make sense of complicated employee health laws. One law that causes employers a lot of anxiety is the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. The FMLA is a law that was passed in 1993 to help people keep their jobs and their health care even if they are unable to work for certain health-related reasons. The law requires many employers to allow employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, retaining their same title, salary, and benefits, when certain conditions apply.

The law contains a lot of details about which employers are covered, which employees are eligible for leave, how much leave time they are allowed to take, and which conditions the employees are required to meet. This can all feel a bit overwhelming for employers.

Fortunately for your clients, they have you, and you have Zywave. We have detailed information on every aspect of the FMLA in Broker Briefcase. Combined with the tools available to you with our health insurance agency management software, you’ll have everything you need to assist your clients with compliance issues.

This broad law has many facets, so for the purpose of this blog post, we are going to focus on just two. Which employers are covered by this law? And which employees are eligible under the law? Other aspects of the FMLA will be covered in future blog posts.

Which Employers Are Covered by the FMLA?

There are three categories of employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act: private sector employers, public agencies, and local educational agencies.

In order to be covered by the FMLA, a private sector employer must have had 50 or more employees during at least 20 weeks of the current or previous calendar year.

State and local governments and government agencies, along with the federal government and its agencies, are all considered public agencies. Public agencies are all covered by the FMLA, regardless of the number of employees they have.

Local educational agencies are also covered by the FMLA, regardless of their number of employees. Local educational agencies include public school boards and public and private elementary and secondary schools. Certain special leave rules apply to local educational agencies, but they do not apply to colleges and universities, trade schools, or preschools.

Which Employees Are Eligible?

There are several criteria used to determine employee eligibility under the FMLA. To be eligible for FMLA leave, the employee must:

  • Work for a covered employer,
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months (the 12 months do not have to be consecutive),
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months, and
  • Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius at the time the employee requests leave.

Let’s look at an example illustrating the 1,250-hour requirement. In this example, employee Alex Cantwell started working for Acme Corporation in January of 2017. Acme is a large corporation with thousands of employees, and they offer a great benefits package, including healthcare. Alex C. worked for four months but then decided to take some time off to go backpacking around Europe in early May. Then, in September 2017, he came back to work, chasing a slippery fugitive roadrunner. After eight more months on the job, Alex C. chased the roadrunner off the edge of a cliff and broke a few bones. As long as he worked at least 1,250 hours from September 2017 to his injury at the end of April 2018 (and met all other requirements), he is covered under the FMLA, and Acme Corporation will have to give him at least 12 weeks of leave, health care included.

The requirement that eligible employees work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius can get tricky. We mentioned above that only private sector employers have to meet the 50-employee test in order to be covered by the FMLA. Public agencies and local educational agencies are covered regardless of the number of employees they have. However, if the employer has fewer than 50 employees working nearby, the employee still might not be covered. For example, let’s say Acme corporation has 2,000 employees in multiple locations. But only 35 people work at their office in Topeka, Kansas. The closest Acme location to Topeka is Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s over 130 miles away. So unfortunately for the employees in Topeka, they are not eligible for leave under the FMLA even though their employer is covered.  

The FMLA can be confusing, and your business clients will likely want your help staying in compliance. Using your Zywave tools, you can help them ensure that they are following the law and protecting their businesses.

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