Who Does the Work When Employees Take FMLA Leave?

For Immediate Release

Apr 10, 2008
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HR professional asks House to reconsider what’s fair and practical under FMLA

Alexandria, Va. – A representative of the world’s largest organization devoted to human resource management appeared today before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections to support new rules that will make implementation of the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) more equitable and predictable.

Reiterating the HR profession’s concerns that were shared before the Senate two months ago, Brenda Cossette, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), explained the unintended consequences of current FMLA policies. One such consequence occurs when employees and employers must cover co-workers’ responsibilities, often with little to no advance notice.

“The FMLA has been a valuable and important benefit for employees,” said Cossette, human resources director for the City of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. “However, HR professionals have two primary concerns with the Act’s regulations — the definitions of ‘serious health condition’ and ‘intermittent leave.’”

Cossette, a breast cancer patient, presented testimony as both a medical patient and an HR practitioner. “With cancer as a chronic condition, my need to use FMLA leave continues on an intermittent basis,” she said. “The benefits afforded under the FMLA allow me to take time off as necessary for my treatments and for the often unpredictable complications of chemotherapy.”

Testifying on behalf of SHRM, Cossette explained that the challenge for HR professionals is in interpreting and implementing contradictory guidance from the Department of Labor (DOL) regarding whether serious health conditions include ailments such as the common cold, the flu, and non-migraine headaches.

“Fifteen years after enactment of the FMLA, serious challenges remain regarding the tracking of intermittent leave and staffing workloads to accommodate absent co-workers,” Cossette said.

In her testimony, she asked Congress to consider two questions that HR professionals face every day: Is an ailment that lasts three calendar days and accompanied by a doctor’s visit a serious medical condition? How does a business operate and administer unscheduled, intermittent leave in a manner that is fair to all employees?

She added that SHRM looks forward to working with Congress to craft practical workplace flexibility policies that meet the needs of employees, families, and employers.

SHRM previously testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families on Feb. 13, 2008.

To review SHRM’s testimony, visit the SHRM Government Affairs Web page at http://www.shrm.org/government/

Reporters requesting interviews on SHRM’s workplace and legislative priorities may contact SHRM Media Affairs at (703) 535-6273 or (703) 535-6356.

About the Society for Human Resource Management

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at www.shrm.org.

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