The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees when they need to take an extended leave of absence from work. However, employers have been found to ignore regulations. If you’re faced with handling absenteeism in a union environment, FMLA issues can be exacerbated and expose employers to risks and subsequent penalties.
What Is the Family Medical Leave Act?
The Family Medical Leave Act is a law put in place in 1993 to provide protection for eligible employees to take unpaid medical leave. The employee is permitted to take a leave of absence for serious health reasons sustained by themselves or their family up to 12 weeks (or up to 26 for military caregiver leave). While on FMLA leave, employees can’t be disciplined or fired when missing work. In addition, they continue receiving health insurance benefits as if they were still working.
FMLA in a Non-Union vs. a Union Environment
Whether in a non-union or union environment, you can require an employee to provide a medical certification from a physician, nurse practitioner, psychologist or similar professional. You should be sure to follow all guidelines because even FMLA program specialists often make mistakes.
FMLA in a Non-Union Environment
When requesting a medical certificate, you must do so in writing and allow the employee 15 days to submit. It is not uncommon for an employer to ignore regulations. They may make the claim that an eligible employee was late submitting their FMLA paperwork or that the medical certification was inadequate. As an employer, you’re required to extend deadlines under extenuating circumstances such as if the medical professional does not return forms by the deadline. Even if the medical certification is deemed inadequate, you must allow the employee at last seven days to provide a new certification or letter. The common practice of denying leave is in direct violation of the guidelines put forth by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
FMLA in a Union Environment
As an employer in a union environment, you will face unique circumstances when employees request FMLA leave. An employee can obtain union advice about submitting a medical certification. This includes ensuring that the employee reviews the medical certification to correct any mistakes that the employer may have made regarding their job title, function and schedule, as well as any mistakes that the medical professional may have made regarding the health reason and estimated duration of leave needed. An employee can ask you for an extension to submit if they expect to miss the deadline due to the medical provider.
Collective Bargaining Agreements and FMLA Rules
It is often suggested that employees should seek answers about FMLA from their union rather than their employer. This is because a union contract can sometimes provide more benefits than the FMLA. In that case, you would be required to provide the greater benefits. The FMLA works independently from any other federal laws, state laws or union contracts. When a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provides a greater amount of protection than the FMLA, then the CBA presides. If the FMLA provides greater benefits, then it presides except when the CBA provides stricter requirements for certification and returning to work. Not only that, but union members are able to file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) if they feel that you have violated FMLA regulations. When a union member files a complaint, the DOL typically responds with a form letter.
Based on the way the FMLA works with unions, specifically when a collective bargaining agreement exists, you may have to endure more challenges. The case could be made that if you don’t have a union then you may minimize the risk of violating FMLA regulations.