Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a 16-page FMLA guide that the DOL says is “designed to answer common FMLA questions and clarify who can take FMLA leave and what protections the FMLA provides.” Entitled “Need Time? The Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act,” the Guide apparently was created out of DOL’s belief that “too many workers don’t know about their rights under the FMLA and fail to take advantage of its protections,” as stated in a DOL press release earlier this week.
The Guide was unveiled at a DOL-sponsored webinar this week by DOL Wage and Hour Division Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink and DOL Branch Chief for FMLA, Diane Dawson. Ms. Leppink and Ms. Dawson provided an overview of the Guide and took questions from webinar attendees. Although the webinar was geared toward employees and those generally unfamiliar with the Family and Medical Leave Act, I applaud the DOL for highlighting the FMLA in a webinar by two high ranking officials within the agency.
As for the Guide itself, my initial reaction is that it will be well received by the employer community. Don’t get me wrong: the Guide primarily is meant to answer “common” questions about the FMLA, so it leaves unanswered all of the issues that continue to frustrate employers in their administration of the FMLA. However, what I like about the Guide is that, in a fairly plain-spoken manner, it impresses upon employees the obligations they have under the FMLA to cooperate with their employer when they need FMLA leave and what will be expected of them during this process.
Many of the points emphasized in the Guide are likely to have some benefit to employers when administering the FMLA. For instance, the Guide:
- Contains relatively easy to follow flowcharts so that employees can better understand eligibility requirements and the FMLA notice process.
- Provides a succinct definition of “serious health condition” so that employees better understand that FMLA leave cannot be utilized simply for the common cold.
- Reminds employees that they must work with their employer to schedule medical treatments so as to not disrupt the employer’s operations.
- Contains examples of how accrued paid leave and FMLA run concurrently, so as to minimize an employee’s oft-mistaken belief that the two cannot run together.
- Emphasizes to employees the need to provide their employer with enough information so that the employer can determine whether the leave may be covered by the FMLA.
- Highlights the employee’s obligation to maintain regular contact with the employer during FMLA leave.
- Makes clear that the employee — not the employer — is responsible for paying for the cost of obtaining medical certification from a health care provider. (This can be a confusing principle, as doctors are increasingly charging for medical certification, and all too many employees mistakenly believe that the employer should pick up the tab.)
- Lists the specific medical information that must be provided in the medical certification.
As Ms. Leppink pointed out in the webinar, the DOL encourages employers to use the Guide to facilitate discussion with employees where questions or confusion about the FMLA arise. She may be onto something here, since employees are more likely to accept an employer’s explanation of a document when it contains the DOL seal on front.
Finally, I also was impressed that the DOL invited to the webinar stakeholder Charlie Fox, Executive Director of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, who provided his support for the Guide. Clever move on the DOL’s part to get the buy in of a strong employer-oriented organization.
So, employers: what say you? What’s your initial take on this Guide? Am I painting too rosy a view of this Guide? Cynical responses are welcome, so long as you can back them up with good reasoning!