A lot of my clients, who really don’t have time or knowledge to plow through the legalese of the Family
Medical Leave Act (FMLA), make huge assumptions. Like, they have to let every employee take three months off, just because they asked. And they think the fact that that employee’s absence may throw the company into some chaos is just…too bad. So as far as they’re concerned, FMLA is just a longer way of say FML—F***mylife!
I talked with a potential client who swore she would never have more than 49 employees because she was so traumatized by working at a major corporation and having people take FMLA absences, disrupting her ability to get projects done. Nobody likes to fail or miss deadlines and you don’t really want to have to explain to customers it’s because a key person is out on leave. That falls under the category of “not my problem” for most customers.
I had another client who thought anybody in the company who wanted 12 weeks for any kind of personal or family issue, got to take it. But that’s not really the case. The circumstances are limited including the birth or adoption of a child, care for a parent, spouse or child—especially someone who was in the military, or a serious or chronic illness. For employees who qualify, you don’t have to pay them while they’re gone, but you do have to protect their jobs by promising the same or a similar job when they return. If that gets in the way of completing a project, you might move them, for example, off the project. That’s not violating FMLA, it’s just keeping your company running.
If you’re worried about the employee abusing the act, don’t. Your rights as an employer include requiring all employees to apply for FMLA and give reasons and documentation to validate their need to take it, including a doctor’s note. You can require that employee to get a second medical opinion from a medical professional of your choice. You have to pay for it, but you can require it. You can even ask new mothers to provide medical verification that they need the full 12 weeks to bond with their children. It may be a really bad idea—you may not want them back after nine weeks and angry to be in the office rather than home with the baby. But you can do it.
The fact is, FMLA is good for employers, too. It’s better to get back someone you hired, who is trained and already knows your company and your team, provided they’re a good performer. And except for emergency situations like a major car accident or falling off a cliff, there’s usually time to sit down with the employee and work through how to handle FMLA optimally for both of you. Its really not that scary on the other side of the door, I promise.
This might be one of those times to hire an expert to help you craft your FMLA policy, so you don’t have to come up with one on the fly when an employee is suddenly hurt or ill. FMLA doesn’t have to be FML.
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.