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Are Your Company’s FMLA Policies Putting It at Risk?

Money and GavelIs there anything more frustrating than knowing what needs to be done, but forgetting to do it?

There’s standing in line for an hour at the DMV, and then realizing you forgot your identification. Then there’s waiting on hold with the help desk, before realizing you don’t have your ticket number. And let’s not mention the important email you sent just before leaving the office … and the essential attachments you neglected to include.

These all are matters of knowing the right procedure, but not crossing your T’s or dotting your I’s. When it comes to FMLA compliance, the devil is also in the details, but there’s a lot more at stake for your company than an extra trip to the DMV.

The keywords here are FMLA compliance and consistency. Compliance means that companies must have in place policies that fulfill all of the requirements of FMLA. Your company can have a full understanding of its requirements and responsibilities under the law, but if they’re not correctly conveyed to employees through policies, then the company is at risk.

Perhaps one of the most forgotten stipulations of FMLA is that an employer must provide all pertinent FMLA information and policies in its employee handbook on the date of hire (or if no handbook is available, in separate paperwork). The basic FMLA information must also be physically posted in the workplace in accordance with the law’s requirements.

Failure to follow these regulations can open up an employer to the potential of a fine from the U.S. Department of Labor, or worse, a lawsuit from an employee. This occurred in a recent court case, when an employee sued for being wrongfully dismissed from his company and denied FMLA rights on the basis that his office did not employ at least 50 people within 75 miles.

Although his company was correct in that it was not required to provide him with FMLA protections because it did not meet the 50 employee/75 mile threshold, the employee had a case because it was not stated in the handbook.

A company’s FMLA policies can also include stipulations that are not required by federal law. For example, some companies have restrictions on whether employees on FMLA leave can “moonlight,” or obtain secondary employment, while they are not working for their primary employer. Court cases have shown a clear split; employers that had explicitly precluded moonlighting in their policies came out the winners, while employees of companies that did not mention moonlighting were allowed to continue the activity.

Once a company has all of its FMLA policy ducks in a row, the emphasis then turns to ensuring the policies are applied consistently. While smaller companies new to FMLA requirements typically struggle with compliance issues, it’s the larger employers who struggle with consistency.

That’s because large organizations generally have multiple offices or workplaces, sometimes with their own unique human resource departments. If benefits are distributed unequally — the speed of paychecks, reimbursements, or the aforementioned moonlighting policies, for instance — that once again opens the door for employees to file suit. For this reason it’s essential that large companies devote training and regular refreshers on FMLA compliance and benefits distribution to all HR employees.

Companies that want to make sure all of their FMLA policies are copacetic can consult with Creative Benefits, Inc. for a full review. In a time when the U.S. Department of Labor is increasing its FMLA enforcement and more FMLA claims are being filed, no company wants to be caught out of compliance.

About the author: Kelly Fitzgerald is an Account Manager and FMLA Specialist with Creative Benefits, Inc. She assists clients with Family and Medical Leave Administration and provides consultative services to employers and their employees.