DOL Publishes New FMLA Guide for Employers

The Department of Labor (DOL) has published a new guide to help employers understand their obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act was announced by DOL FMLA Branch Chief Helen Applewhaite at the 2016 FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference on April 25.

According to the DOL, the Guide’s purpose is “to provide essential information about the FMLA, including information about employers’ obligations under the law and the options available to employers in administering leave under the FMLA.” The Guide is organized along a loosely chronological timeline of a typical FMLA leave request; the Guide begins at the employee’s request for FMLA leave, continues through the duration of the leave, and concludes with the employee’s successful return to work.

The Guide is designed to complement the corresponding employee guide to FMLA that was released last June. The Employer’s Guide answers basic FMLA questions and illustrates common FMLA-related scenarios. The text is illustrated with explanatory graphics, including cartoons showing model employer-employee interactions and flow charts like “The Employer’s Road Map to the FMLA.”

However, employers should note that the FMLA guide doesn’t address the sometimes messy questions that can arise from FMLA-related court opinions. For example, in Bonkowski v. Oberg Industries, Inc., the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employee who was admitted to a hospital just after midnight and discharged less than 24 hours later did not qualify for FMLA leave because his “overnight stay” did not consist of an inpatient stay that spanned from one calendar day into another calendar day. On the other hand, in Caggiano v. Illinois Department of Corrections, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois ruled that an employee who appeared to have worked fewer than 1,250 hours in 12 months did qualify for FMLA leave—because the employer failed to include the employee’s thirty-minute paid lunch breaks in its calculation of hours. For questions that are murkier than the clear-cut questions presented in the Guide, employers should consider consulting counsel.

Still have general questions? The DOL Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has promised to hold free, public webinars on the Guide in the near future. Additional answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the DOL WHD website.

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