HR Solutions

By Anne St. Martin, Amy Maingault and Vicki Neal Jul 1, 2005
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HR Magazine, July 2005Emergency Contacts, FMLA Leave, Teenage Employees

Q: We’d like to have the name of each employee’s doctor and a list of medications taken in case of a personal or workplace emergency. Can we require employees to give us this information? If not, what information can we require employees to give us?

A: For the general employee population, the employer is wise to limit a request for emergency contact information to the name and telephone number of one person as well as the employee’s doctor’s name and telephone number.

Providing such information should be voluntary for the employee, however. Although employees generally don’t mind providing a personal contact, some prefer not to provide a doctor’s name and number. The employer should respect such a decision by any employee and should note it on the emergency contact form.

Requesting or requiring an employee to provide a list of medications taken would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition on health inquiries. Such an inquiry could result in a charge of disability discrimination.

The employer’s policy on emergency contact information should assure employees that such information will be kept confidential and will be shared or used only on a strict need-to-know basis.

If you have employees with disabilities who may need assistance during a workplace evacuation, you should become familiar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s “Fact Sheet on Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures.” The document, available at, provides recommendations on how to identify such employees, what specific information may be requested, and how that information can be shared and used.

Employers may suggest, though not require, that employees participate in a medical alert jewelry program and/or notification service. Medical alert jewelry programs provide participants with an engraved piece of jewelry, usually a bracelet, that contains certain medical information about the participant. Some services provide a phone number and/or a web site that gives certified emergency responders access to the participant’s medical information.

Employers may even consider offering this type of program as a unique employee benefit.


Q: I have an employee who needs to take extended leave for medical treatment. Should I initiate Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, even though the employee hasn’t asked for it?

A: Yes, generally you should initiate FMLA leave, even if your employee has not asked for it.

First, confirm that your company is subject to the FMLA. Employers with 50 or more employees must grant FMLA leave, according to the law’s regulations.

Then, determine if the employee is eligible. An employee becomes eligible after working for a company for 12 months and working at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. Also, the employee must work at a location that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

After eligibility is established, the employer should be aware that, according to federal regulations, “in all circumstances, it is the employer’s responsibility to designate leave, paid or unpaid, as FMLA-qualifying, and to give notice of the designation to the employee.”

The regulations make it clear that the employee does not have to expressly request FMLA leave and that the employer is responsible for initiating FMLA leave.

Furthermore, the regulations state that if an employer is uncertain whether the reason for the leave qualifies for FMLA, it is the employer’s responsibility to inquire further.

If an employer neglects to initiate FMLA leave, the employee could become entitled to take more than 12 weeks of leave.


Q: What laws and other factors do I need to consider when hiring a minor?

A: Employers often seek applicants under 18 years of age for certain types of jobs or for summer employment. Employers must consider the federal and state laws that apply when hiring a minor.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) imposes restrictions on the employment of children and teens under 18. Children under 14 generally cannot be employed. Exceptions include certain jobs such as working for a parent or as a newspaper carrier.

Minors ages 14 or 15 generally are permitted to work a limited number of hours outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs. During times of the year when school is in session, they may work no more than three hours per day and 18 hours per week. During holidays and school breaks, these children can work up to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, but only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. From June 1 through Labor Day, the permissible hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Teens who are 16 or 17 are not restricted from working during school hours but are subject to limits on the number of hours worked, with exceptions for agricultural employment and for student learners and apprentices.

The FLSA prohibits anyone under 18 from working in certain hazardous occupations.

All states have laws regulating minimum ages, hours of work, permissible types of employment and documentation for teens and children in the workforce. Employers should check with their state employment offices to learn about such requirements as well as how to obtain whatever work permits or certificates may be required under state law. Employers should also be mindful of rules on hiring that are specific to their industry.

It is recommended that employers request age certificates from minors and keep them on file throughout the minor’s employment. When employment is terminated, the employer must return the age certificate so that the minor can provide it to future employers as proof of age.

Age certificates can be issued by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division or by appropriate state agencies. In states that do not issue age certificates, an employer can use documents such as a birth certificate or a baptismal certificate with date of birth to verify proof of age.

When the employer has both federal and state laws to consider, the law that is more favorable to the employee applies. For more information on legal and other concerns in hiring teenagers, see "De-Greening Teens" in the April 2005 issue of HR Magazine.


Anne St. Martin, SPHR, CEBS, is the manager of express operations in SHRM’s Information Center. Amy Maingault, SPHR, and Vicki Neal, PHR, are information specialists in the center.
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