HR managers—even the most seasoned ones—can find navigating Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules and requirements out. People get sick, families grow, and other life events happen in employees’ lives—FMLA is a labor law that requires companies (if covered) to grant workers leave for certain medical and family reasons. The trick is making sure the company is doing what’s required, and not exposing itself to unnecessary risk.

What companies are covered?

FMLA applies to private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees, in 20 or more workweeks, in the current or preceding calendar year. If that isn’t you, be sure to keep FMLA coverage out of your employee handbook. About 10 years ago, a contractor with less than 15 employees nearly had to paid out big. The situation arose when an employee was laid out after an elective procedure, came back, and claimed he was entitled to leave because of language in the handbook.

Luckily for the company, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in the company’s favor, but it was a near thing. You may wish to include a disclaimer stating policy is only in play if the company meets the FMLA requirements and if leave is approved ahead of time, to help cover your bases.

What employees are eligible?

Determining if a worker is eligible for FMLA-related leave is pretty simple. They’re covered if they can answer “yes” to all of these questions:

  • Do they work for a covered employer? (see above)
  • Have they worked for the company at least 12 months total (not necessarily in succession)?
  • Did they work at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period right before the leave is to start?
  • Were they employed at a location where the company employed at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius?

What about the paperwork?

When your staffer asks about FLMA, or if you become hip to an employee possibly experiencing an eligible reason for leave, check in with them and provide the necessary paperwork. This has to be done within five days of determining an absence might be FMLA-qualifying. Here’s the goods:

  • FMLA request form
  • Appropriate certification form
  • FMLA Safe Harbor Form
  • Notification of eligibility, rights, and responsibilities

When you deliver the paperwork, spell out to the employee that they have 15 calendar days (not business days) to return the request and certification form. Once they send those back to you, it’s time for you to formally designate the leave. You do that by giving them:

  • Their designation notice
  • Benefits continuation letter (if the employee participates in any company-sponsored insurance plans)

FMLA can be difficult to sort out, but it’s important for HR managers to familiarize themselves with the basics, in order to meet employees’ needs and protect the company. If you’ve got questions, contact Human Elements—we’d love to help you out.