Feb 12, 2008

Proposed FMLA Regulations Released

Yesterday, the Department of Labor issued proposed changes to the FMLA regulations. These proposed rule changes have been a long time coming; the DOL first announced that it was reviewing the regulations five years ago. The proposed rules include a number of changes, but doesn't go as far as some employer groups hoped -- and some employee advocates feared. (You can read all 100+ pages of the proposed regs here).

Some hotly contested issues were left alone. For example, the proposed rules make only minor changes to the definition of a "serious health condition." The rules also continue to allow employees to take intermittent FMLA leave in the smallest increments of time tracked by the employer's recordkeeping system, something many employer groups protested.

The most significant changes appear to be to the notice and medical certification requirements, including:

Notice:


  • Employers now have to provide more information when employees request leave and when an employer designates time off as FMLA leave; the time limit for providing this information has been extended from two days to five.



  • Employees still don't have to say that they are requesting "FMLA leave," but they can't just call in "sick." Employees must indicate that they have a condition that renders them unable to perform their job functions (or renders a family member unable to perform daily activities); how long they expect to be out; and whether the employee or a family member is getting care from a health care provider.



  • Employees must comply with the employer's usual notice and procedure requirements for taking time off (for example, calling in) absent unusual circumstances. If the employee could have followed the employer's rules but didn't, FMLA leave can be delayed or denied.



  • Employees still have to give 30-days' notice of foreseeable leave, but now an employee who doesn't give this much leave must explain why.


Medical Certifications. The form got longer, and the rules for unclear and incomplete certifications were changed:

  • Employers would be allowed to contact health care providers directly to clarify and authenticate the certification.



  • If an employer finds the certification to be incomplete or insufficient, the employer must tell the employee, in writing, what additional information is necessary and give the employee at least seven days to fix it.



  • Although the proposed rules say that employees can't be required to waive their right to privacy in their medical records, they also say that FMLA leave can be denied if the certification is inadequate (after the employee has had an opportunity to fix it) and the employer can't straighten things out by talking to the health care provider.


There are no rules proposed for the new military family leave provisions; instead, the DOL raised a number of questions about how to implement the new requirements and sought comments from the public.

What happens next? The DOL will be accepting comments until April 11, 2008. After reviewing those comments, the DOL will issue final regulations. (It has said that these final rules will probably include provisions on military family leave, too.) However, Congress has a right to weigh in on -- and potentially, disapprove of -- the final regulations. Considering that we are now in the throes of a presidential (and Congressional) election year, will final, binding regulations ever see the light of day? My Magic 8-Ball says "Reply hazy, try again."

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Lisa Guerin