A Small Business Owner’s Guide to FMLA Laws

As most small business owners already know, legal compliance is immensely important. Yet, simply understanding its importance is not always equivocal to proper implementation. In this article, we will discuss one very important component for legal compliance: FMLA, or the Family Medical Leave Act. FMLA strongly impacts small businesses, so understanding how it operates and how to maintain compliance is essential for minimizing the risk of conflicts or employee lawsuits.

FMLA Compliance

What is FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act is a law which states that if your company employs more than fifty people, you must allow unpaid leave for health or family issues. Circumstances may include medical issues for the employee or a close family member, as well as birth or adoption. The employee must have worked for the company for a minimum of one year with 1,250 hours of labor. Passed in 1993, this law mandates that employees must be allowed twelve weeks of leave. While you do not have to offer payment, the employee’s job must be secured upon their return.

How do I make sure that I’m Compliant?

Before securing any policies, it is important to first understand FMLA. Consider speaking with an attorney before formulating your policies.

In the meantime, the following guide will help you gain further understanding on how to guarantee FMLA compliance.

  • Outline exactly what events allow for FMLA leave and make sure that they are clear to your employees. You can visit the Department of Labor to see what qualifies. Typically, it involved birth or adoption, serious medical issues, complications related to pregnancy, or the need to care for a family member who is ill.
  • Determine the procedure for employees requesting leave. Additionally, you should decide if you want to require certification. If so, you need to allow employees at least fifteen days to obtain the necessary information and fill in the form. It’s a good idea to provide the procedural information and any certification forms in the materials you give to new employees. Or, you can have it on your company software for employees to easily access at any time.
  • Make sure that your policies and the Department of Labor’s policies are clearly stated and visible to employees. This can mean presenting the material to all new hires, putting the information in the employee handbook, and/or posting materials such as posters or fliers in places where employees frequently gather. And when you give the employees this information, make sure they acknowledge that they received it with a signature.
  • At times, employers will require their employees to use their accrued paid time off before using unpaid leave under the FMLA. This is should assessed based on your own individual policies and the status of the employee requesting leave.
  • Understand how benefits will continue to be accumulated during time off. If employees get paid time off based on amount of time with the company, then you need to determine if they can continue to gain this time when they are on leave. You also need to determine what to do about health care benefits, and state very clearly what your policy will be.
  • Always be overtly cautious when dealing with FMLA, in general. Since the law often sides with employees over employers when it comes to disputes, it’s crucial that you formulate a comprehensive policy on which your staff has been thoroughly informed. This includes being cautious about the events which occur upon an employee’s return. If you wish to fire someone returning from leave, be sure that the true reason is evident and that it has nothing to do with their use of FMLA.
  • The best way to ensure that you’re FMLA compliant is to do your research and form a thorough and well-articulated policy to which your employees can refer with any questions or concerns. This will minimize miscommunication and offer your employees a greater sense of security.

FMLA - Legal agreement

Bottom Line

While the general need for a company to be in compliance with FMLA laws is obvious, employers should not be distracted by cost. While maintaining compliance can be expensive, the penalties for non-compliance can be extremely steep, in the form of costly fines and lawsuits. Taking the steps to maintain FMLA compliance now is crucial for the future well-being of your business.

In addition to avoiding penalties, Stewart Cooper & Coon agrees that remaining in clear compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act shows that you care about your employees’ work-life balance and that you support them beyond the simply labor that they provide. The reality is that employees may face certain situations in their lives which require time away from the workplace. Remaining in accordance with FMLA stipulations also helps to promote increased equality between male and female workers by providing both with the possibility to leave for familial reasons.


Fred Coon, CEO


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