The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) has long required employers to grant employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family situations. Employers covered under the FMLA include companies who employ over 50 people, all public agencies, and private and public schools (excluding colleges). To be covered under the current rules, employees must have worked for the company for at least one year with 1,250 hours completed during that year. Employees also must need the leave for a specific reason, such as the birth and/or care of a child (birth, foster, or adoptive), pregnancy complications, to care for a family member with medical issues, or for personal medical reasons. In January 2009 the FMLA also added leave for new military families. While the FMLA is fairly comprehensive already, some proposed new changes may require you to allow employees leave in even more situations.
The Domestic Violence Leave Act
On October 11th, 2011 a bill was introduced to the house called H.R. 3151: Domestic Violence Leave Act as an amendment to the FMLA. The new bill seeks to make leave available for employees who need to address domestic violence issues, either for themselves or a family member. Domestic violence that would entitle an employee to leave is identified as:
- Anything to do with Domestic Violence
- Sexual Assault,
- and/or Stalking
as defined in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
The definition of “address” includes:
- The receiving of medical attention,
- Anything to do with legal matters such as meetings with police/lawyers,
- Going to a support group,
- Attending counseling,
- Anything related to ensuring future safety, or
- Participating in any type of activity that was necessary as a result of a domestic violence incident.
In cases where leave is requested as a result of domestic violence, the Act imposes a confidentiality amendment that would require employer confidentiality in relation to an employee addressing a case of domestic violence. Employees, on the other hand, would need to provide written documentation of the domestic violence incident if requested by the employer.
The new bill also requests amendments for subsections of the FMLA. These include:
- Allowing employees to take leave intermittently or on a reduced schedule,
- Allow employees to elect to use any accumulated vacation, sick, personal, family, or medical leave for the intermittent time.
Employees would be required, however, to provide the employer with reasonable notice if they are aware ahead of time that they need to miss work,. It also wants the term “domestic partner” added as a family member of an employee, including same-sex partners and children of domestic partners.
Keeping up with FMLA Rules
While these rules have merely been proposed as of October 2011, it is important to keep abreast of your obligations under the FMLA. Failure to grant required leave or any discrimination or mistreatment of employees on FMLA leave can subject your company to lawsuits, so knowing the current rules is key to protecting yourself legally.