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There is little objection to most of the changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) wants to make, according to a survey of compensation, benefits and HR professionals who handle their organizations’ total rewards.
In fact, they appear to welcome changes that might ease two of their administrative headaches: a lack of advance notice by employees taking leave, and difficulty in tracking FMLA-related absences. For example, 43 percent of 401 respondents spend an average of 10 to 30 minutes requesting/reviewing documentation every time FMLA leave is taken.
Top concerns swirl around FMLA-allowed intermittent leave: suspected abuse, lack of advance notice to the employer, and tracking the leave. For example, 81 percent of workers using the leave do not provide more than 24-hour notice to the employer, and more than half give notice the day of the absence or later, according to respondents.
The findings, released April 2008, are based on a February 2008 online survey of WorldatWork’s U.S. members. Members typically are at or above the manager level in compensation, benefits or HR and work in the headquarters of a large company in North America, according to the organization.
The survey was conducted shortly after the DOL released its proposed changes in a Feb. 11, 2008, edition of the Federal Register.
The FMLA, enacted in 1993, has allowed more than 60 million workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they are ill, need to care for a sick family member, or need time off for the birth or adoption of a child.
DOL’s proposed modifications include technical changes to reflect decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts; expanding the law to provide military family leave; increased notice obligations for employers so employees will better understand their FMLA rights; revising the employee notice rules to minimize workplace disruptions attributable to unscheduled FMLA absences; and guidance on the regulatory definition of a “serious health condition.”
Changes They Like
A majority, WorldatWork found, strongly agree on the following proposed changes:
Among other findings, cancer treatment (68 percent) was the most often cited serious health condition that qualified for intermittent FMLA leave, followed by elder care/child care issues (47 percent) and migraines and headaches, (43 percent).
Surveyed members recommend defining “nonemergency foreseeable leaves” and providing clear examples, including those that would prompt an FMLA claim to be denied. More than half (57 percent) want a stricter definition of “serious health condition” that excludes the flu, colds and similar ailments as qualifying for intermittent FMLA leave.
Military Family Leave
President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act in January 2008, which expanded the previous 12-week leave for a family member if another family member is called to active duty. It also provided up to 26 weeks of leave for a family member to care for a wounded soldier.
That prompted the following list of recommendations from respondents:
The proposed modifications have prompted a flurry of hearings on Capitol Hill to hear testimony from organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that had a member testify April 10, 2008, before a House subcommittee.
HR News reported at the time that the lack of more frequent doctor re-certification of employee illnesses, the definition of “serious health condition” and abuses of incremental leave are issues of critical importance to SHRM and others.
SHRM, which chairs the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave, submitted comprehensive comments to the DOL about the proposed changes after hearing from its members at sessions held in each of its member regions.
Among its comments, SHRM called for clear guidance regarding the military portions of the leave and offered suggestions on the appropriate exigencies that should qualify for leave and options for measuring the leave period.
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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