The Federal Medical Leave Act -- Employers alert employees to benefits

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 can be of assistance to employees if they need to take time off from work because of family responsibilities or personal problems such as illness.

According to the Department of Labor, the FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee -- male and female -- with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee; for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care; to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

An FMLA-eligible employee is one who has been employed by the employer for a least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours.

Jessica Dunn, executive team leader for human resources at Target in Cape Girardeau, said store employees are informed of the provisions of the law during the orientation process.

"We go over the act with new employees, and information about it is included in our handbook that we give to all employees," said Dunn. "The law also requires that a notice of the act be posted in a visible place. We have ours posted at the time clock."

Dunn said sometimes employees are surprised at the variety of options the law gives them. She said employees often don't realize the different number of reasons they can take time off for.

"Most people know that maternity leave and personal illness is covered, but a lot of people don't know that their job is guaranteed when they return from taking care of a family member," said Dunn.

At Cape Girardeau County Public Schools, personnel director Pat Morgan said the law requires that notices about the FMLA be posted in visible locations, and in Cape Girardeau schools they are posted in workrooms, breakrooms and other areas where employees gather.

He said he has had previous jobs where information about the FMLA was discussed with new employees.

"This act has been in place for quite a while, and I've always found it to offer good protection for employees and it gives structure for schools," said Morgan. "We're diligent about making sure our teachers and other staff know about what it covers and how it can affect them."

At K's Merchandise corporate office, an employee benefits spokeswoman said detailed information about the FMLA is included in handbooks all new employees are given. She said notices about the act, which includes a general outline of what it entails and a suggestion to employees to seek further information from their manager or human resources director, are posted with other employment-related notices by time clocks in all the stores.

"We make sure our human resources people have a very good understanding of what the law entails," she said. "When employees need time off, they often have questions, especially if the time off is rather long. Their jobs are guaranteed when they come back. They're glad to hear that."

Jim Cook, director of human resources at Southeast Missouri State University, said new employees -- from professors to maintenance workers -- have FMLA benefits and university-provided benefits explained to them privately and in group orientations. He said the university's Web site has a link to FMLA information.

Whereas the FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, Southeast's benefits package pays employees up to 12 weeks if the leave is related to personal illness.

"Our medical leave policy would not cover paid leaves if relatives of employees are ill, but FMLA still guarantees them the 12 weeks," said Cook. "Our employees know all about the FMLA and the university's benefits that complement it."

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