Employees have many rights and as an employer, you must follow the laws that govern employment. One of the rights that employees have is to take time off work for family matters. This time off is a family or medical leave of absence. An employee may take unpaid time off to tend to personal family matters as long as they do so in accordance with the law. As an employer, you may wonder how to handle someone’s leave and what you can and cannot say to other employees regarding the time off.
What is FMLA?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides some workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year due to family or medical matters. If an employee meets the criteria, he or she is allowed to take leave for one of a variety of reasons such as the birth of a child, the adoption of a child, to care for a sick relative, or undergoing medical care due to a serious health condition. Time off due to pregnancy complications can be counted as FMLA. An employee generally requests a leave when he or she needs to take care of an urgent matter and intends to return to work.
What are the Rules of FMLA?
An employee may request leave under the FMLA law when the need arises. As an employer, you must keep the employee on the payroll and provide benefits, even though you may not be paying the worker during that time. The law applies to companies with more than 50 employees and all public agencies and schools. To be eligible, an employee must have worked at the company for at least a year before requesting leave and must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. While an employee is on leave, they are not allowed to work and you should not contact them for work-related matters. The Department of Labor provides detailed information online.
As long as an employee meets the criteria under the FMLA law, you must grant them the requested time off. You may put specific guidelines in place through your human resources department, such as requiring them to submit a request. It is always best for an employee to provide as much notice as possible when they will need to take a leave of absence, however, this is not always possible. For example, when an employee or a close relative is suddenly very ill, they may not be able to give notice ahead of time. Employers need to be flexible in understanding that these issues arise and knowing the law as it applies to their workers. It is helpful to note that in some cases, an employee may take intermittent leave, as long as they work out the details with the employer.
Disclosing Leave of Absence Information
As a general rule, an employee’s health and other information is confidential. Therefore, you should not disclose any confidential information to other employees. However, you may provide general information and you may tell others that an employee is out of the office on a leave of absence. This information might be necessary to re-delegate work tasks, shift responsibilities, and/or seek temporary workers to assist. You should make sure that you do not tell others the reason for the FMLA. The employee can discuss the leave with their co-workers if they want to do so.