With regard to employee medical leave, compliance means understanding and adhering to federal law, state law, and the organization’s own stated policies. This may seem like a lot to manage, but that is where an experienced labor and employment lawyer comes in.
Federal Law and Employee Medical Leave
The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is probably the best-known regulation of employee medical leave and a piece of legislation every private employer with 50 or more employees must be aware of.
Medical Leave Under the Federal FMLA
The FMLA addresses more than just medical leave for the employee, but the additional provisions have been addressed in more detail on another page. With regard to medical leave based on the employee’s own serious health condition, the FMLA requires that the employer offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.
However, this leave is not necessarily owed to every employee who experiences medical problems. For example, an employee must have worked for the organization for at least 12 months to qualify for FMLA leave, and must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the prior 12-month period. An experienced labor and employment attorney can help you understand exactly what your obligations are regarding medical leave under the FMLA.
Medical Leave as an Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA does not contain a specific provision with regard to employee medical leave like the FMLA does. However, medical leave may be deemed a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Although ADA leave is less publicized and may arise less often, it may be more difficult for an employer to assess its obligations under the Act and ensure that its decisions regarding medical leave are compliant. The key complication employers face is that since the statute does not set forth a particular number of days or weeks as the FMLA does, it may be difficult to determine with confidence exactly how much leave is required and under what circumstances.
Further, an employer may be excused from making a particular accommodation, such as medical leave, if doing so would cause an undue hardship. However, undue hardship is also determined on a case-by-case basis, and so may be difficult for the employer to assess or effectively assert.
State Law and Employee Medical Leave
While the leave mandated under federal law is unpaid, a handful of states have implemented paid medical leave requirements. The specifics vary from state to state, but this type of leave is generally funded through payroll taxes and typically does not impose a financial obligation on the employer. A small number of states also require employers to offer paid sick leave to employees. The amount of leave and the employees entitled to leave under these laws also varies from state to state.
A knowledgeable employment lawyer can educate you as to the requirements in your state and inform you how the state law integrates with obligations under federal statutes.
Internal Medical Leave Policies
It may come as a surprise to some employers that one source of risk regarding employee sick leave is found in the organization’s own policies or employee handbook. Policies implemented by the employer, standard practices within the company, and representations made to employees upon hiring can create a contractual obligation to grant medical leave, even if that leave is not mandated by state or federal law.
Integration of Federal Law, State Law and Employer Policies Regarding Medical Leave
Effectively managing the multiple regulations connected with employee medical leave can be challenging. For example, in some cases leave mandated by more than one source may run concurrently. For example, depending on phrasing, an internal policy that allows for up to 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave in a year may be interpreted to mean the 12 weeks mandated by the FMLA plus up to four additional weeks.
Some statutes requiring medical leave also make explicit provisions to assist employers in the orderly management of leave requirements. For example, under the FMLA, an employer may require an employee to exhaust available paid leave before exercising the right to leave under the FMLA.
Talk to an Experienced Attorney about Employee Medical Leave
Whether you are formulating internal policies, attempting to assess your legal obligations with regard to a particular employee, or facing a lawsuit or charge filed with a government agency alleging non-compliance with medical leave requirements, our law firm can help. Attempting to untangle the various state, federal and contractual requirements in play and understand how they work together without knowledgeable guidance can be risky and time consuming.