I once boarded a corporate shuttle and happened to sit next to a manager who mentioned he was on his way to terminate an employee. When I asked why, he said he needed someone more reliable and dependable, someone who didn’t “have so many Dr. appointments and family issues”.
Something about this offended my Benefit Manager sensibilities. So I kicked into action. “Tell me more,” I asked. As he told the story, I simultaneously texted a member of the HR Benefits team to have them confirm if the ill-fated employee had been, by chance, approved for Leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or any other type of leave for that matter. As it happens, she was. Termination averted! Why? Because employees are protected against discrimination for taking unpaid leave from under the FMLA. Under FMLA, employers cannot use the taking of a qualified leave, as a negative factor in any employment actions, such as promotion, discipline, layoff, or termination unless there is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the action.
Family Medical Leave Act…Unknown to most
The initial legislation that is now known as the Family Medial Leave Act (FMLA) was drafted by the Women’s Legal Defense Fund in 1984. After nearly ten years it was signed into law in January of 1993 under the new Clinton Administration.
Lower your Risk by Promoting a More Family Friendly Culture
This chance encounter on the staff shuttle identified a need for more training and education for managers and timekeepers. Thankfully, I was in the right place at the right time to set right what could have been a significant wrong. A wrong that could have put the company at risk. It was also clear that I needed to work harder to develop a more family friendly culture as employees struggle to balance the demands of work and caring for themselves and their families.
Ultimately, we all owe gratitude to the tenacious women and men responsible for this law. The first federal law that requires employers with more than 50 employees to guarantee eligible employees a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year, without fear of loosing their employee benefits or jobs, should they need to take leave for any of the following reasons:
- to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
- to take unpaid medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
- for the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee
- for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
So, how do we build a more family friendly culture?
We should start by training our managers to think more compassionately vs. punitively; how to identify and address a potential leave or accommodation vs. an attendance issue; and to understand that termination should never be used as a default.
Secondly, direct managers must immediately connect employees with Human Resources (HR) if they have reason to believe that absenteeism or tardiness is linked to a medical issue for the employee or their family. Your HR or Benefits team will work with the employee to determine how to best support them in a way that is both compassionate and compliant during what might be a difficult time. Your HR department has the knowledge and expertise to mitigate risk to the organization by knowing the right legally compliant questions to ask. They can also work with the employee, and internal partners, i.e. payroll, benefits, to determine FMLA eligibility and guide the employee through the confidential certification process.
Educating your managers on the available resources and the compliance rules surrounding them may ultimately lower risk and increase employee engagement.
For more information on the Family Medical Leave Act, go to: https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.