Managing Your Business: Understanding FMLA

By Carlos Howell

April 21, 2013 Business No comments

Employee illness can be a tricky subject. In a recent lawsuit, an employee sued his employer because he was fired, due to too many absences. The employee had previously requested FMLA, but his employer told him to use paid time off instead. When the employee was sick in the future from the same condition, he should have never been fired, but was. The employer made a simple error that could cost the company dearly. When managing your own business, it’s essential that you understand FMLA.

What Is FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act entitles employees to time away from work due to illness or family emergencies without the risk of being terminated. Should an employee become sick with what they feel could cause additional absences, it is up to the employee to request the time to be covered by the FMLA. By doing so, the employee doesn’t have to worry about the same issue causing him to get fired. For example, if an employee discovers that he had kidney disease and needs to miss work, he would request to do so under the FMLA. Future absences that were related to the same issue could not be held against him.

How Do Employees Request It?

Employees need to tell HR that the time off is to be covered under the FMLA and that they are suffering from a serious health condition. When future illnesses related to the same condition cause absence, the employee can explain to HR what is going on without worry of termination.

What Should an Employer NOT Do?

Under no circumstances should an employer question whether or not an illness is connected to a previous illness. Doing so puts the company at danger of being sued because it is basically the same as asking if the employee has become disabled.

How Should I Discuss FMLA With Employees?

Employees should have a firm understanding of what FMLA is and how they can request leave under the act. To better protect yourself from lawsuits, you may even want to create a document for employees that explains what the act is and how they use it. The document would then be signed, stating that the employee understands the act and that all questions about the subject have been answered.

The FMLA is an important tool that employees who have serious illnesses can use to protect their position within a company. As an employer, you need to insure that your employees understand the act so that should they need to, they’ll know how to request leave.

Remember, FMLA questions can’t be asked in your job posting or through your applicant tracking system from smart recruiters. You’ll have to cope with your employee FMLA needs as they come up.