U.S. Department of Labor Issues Employee Guide to the FMLA

July 5, 2012

By: Kerry W. Langan

On or about June 20, 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, released a 16-page guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) in an effort to inform employees about the FMLA and to make the law more accessible to them.  This publication, entitled “Need Time? The Employee’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act” (“Guide”), provides a basic overview of the FMLA.  Through a combination of text, flow-charts, and examples, it answers common questions that employees may have about their rights under the FMLA.

So what does this new publication mean for employers?

Although the Guide is specifically geared toward employees, it may also be useful to employers for the reasons set forth below.

  • The Guide is written in plain English. For this reason, the document serves as a useful reference to refresh employers’ understanding regarding the basic rights and protections afforded to employees under the FMLA, as well as the obligations that the statute places on employers themselves.  For example, the Guide contains a flowchart which employers may find useful when determining whether an employee is eligible for FMLA leave.
  • The Guide also reminds employees of their own responsibilities under the FMLA.  For instance, it notifies employees of their obligation to provide an employer with appropriate notice of the need for leave.  In addition, the Guide reminds employees that they are responsible, at their own expense, for ensuring that their employer receives a timely, compete, and sufficient medical certification form.  The Guide also reminds employees that their request for FMLA leave may be denied if they fail to provide employers with requested medical certification(s).  Finally, as a practical matter, the Guide stresses the need for employees to communicate with their employers.

A word of caution . . .

Many employers who are well-versed in the FMLA may not be inclined to utilize or familiar themselves with the Guide.  However, it is important for all employers to understand that this Guide also advises employees, in specific detail, regarding an employer’s obligations to the employee under the FMLA.  For example, the Guide states that employers must notify employees of their eligibility and rights and responsibilities within 5 business days, and must also notify employees within 5 business days if a leave request has, in fact, been designated as FMLA leave.  In addition, the Guide informs employees of their right to continued health benefits while on leave, as well as their right to be returned to the same or nearly identical position upon their return from FMLA leave.  Most importantly, employers should be aware that the Guide contains an entire page of detailed information informing employees how to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor if they feel their FMLA rights have been violated.

Finally, employers are reminded that while the Guide can be a helpful and informative resource to employers and employees alike, it does not serve as a substitute for a well-drafted FMLA policy that is compliant with the law.