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Beyond the FMLA: A Closer Look at Other Employee Leave Factors

By Ashley Kaplan, Esq. on 7/27/2015
Beyond the FMLA: A Closer Look at Other Employee Leave Laws 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) isn’t your only consideration when granting and administering employee leave. State and/or local laws may provide additional employee leave rights, as well as other federal laws that come into play.

As a manager or supervisor, it is critical to understand the various types of legislation that may affect family and medical leave. If an employee’s absence is covered by more than one law, the most generous provisions apply.

State and Local Family/Medical Leave Laws: State and local laws may differ from the federal FMLA in a number of ways, such as:

Apply to smaller employers
Have less stringent requirements for employee eligibility
Provide longer leave than the FMLA
Expand the definition of “serious health condition”
Apply to individuals other than “immediate family members” as defined by the FMLA
Require paid leave instead of unpaid leave
Provide leave for circumstances beyond the scope of the FMLA (e.g., to care for a domestic partner with a serious health condition, to attend a child’s parent-teacher conference, to donate blood or an organ, to volunteer as a firefighter or to seek help for domestic violence)

Pregnancy Discrimination Act: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) applies to employers with 15 or more employees. While it does not require you to provide maternity leave or other special benefits to pregnant women (as required by the FMLA and many state/local laws), it DOES prohibit discrimination against pregnant applicants and employees. It also requires you to apply the same rules and benefits for pregnancy-related absences as available for other medical absences. For example, if company policy allows employees to take up to 10 weeks of medical leave, the same must be provided for pregnancy-related absences.

Americans with Disabilities Act: In some cases, an employee’s medical condition may be covered as a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that applies to companies with 15 or more employees. The ADA requires you to make “reasonable accommodations” for qualified employees with disabilities, which may include providing time off from work. It is also possible that an employee is entitled to additional leave – beyond the 12 weeks provided by the FMLA – if his/her condition is covered by the ADA. Before terminating an employee for exceeding his/her allotted time off under the FMLA or related company policies, consider whether the ADA applies and whether additional time off is required.

On-the-Job Injuries (Workers’ Compensation): In most states, absences caused by on-the-job injuries are covered by workers’ compensation laws. Make sure to document all workplace accidents and injuries as soon as you become aware of them. Check company policy to see if additional documentation is required (e.g., accident report, OSHA incident report, workers’ compensation paperwork). It is generally illegal to retaliate against an employee for pursuing a workers’ compensation

claim, so it is important to work with human resources to determine appropriate accommodations such as light duty or an extended leave of absence. Be aware that an on-the-job injury may be covered simultaneously by the FMLA, ADA or other state/local medical leave laws.

Proceed with Caution

If a leave of absence is not required by law or company policy, you generally have discretion to grant or deny an employee’s request. In these cases, it is important to be consistent and objective. Avoid creating special rules or allowances for certain people, as this may be interpreted as discriminatory by other employees – and can easily destroy morale and lead to a lawsuit.

If you decide to allow leave for reasons not covered by company policy, make sure to communicate important information to the employee concerning payroll/benefits, expected duration of leave and the status of his/her employment upon return (i.e., whether the employee’s time off is job-protected), and be prepared to grant leave for other employees with similar situations in the future.

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