by Nicole Kamm
March 5, 2013
Marking the 20th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the US Department of Labor (DOL) issued new FMLA regulations on February 6, 2013.
The regulations, which take effect Friday, March 8, 2013, expand FMLA protections for military family members and airline flight crews. The regulations also clarify intermittent leave calculations, and remind employers of their confidentiality obligations under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
Highlights from the new FMLA regulations are summarized below:
Military Family Leave
Current FMLA regulations provide “qualifying exigency” leave for eligible family members of certain military personnel to address issues related to certain military deployments. The revised regulations clarify that qualifying exigency leave is intended for family members of persons serving in the regular Armed Forces, National Guard or Reserves who are on active duty or called to active duty in a foreign country.
Additionally, a new category of qualifying exigency leave – parental leave -- has been added. Parental care exigency leave may be utilized to make arrangements for care of parents of military members.
Military Caregiver Leave
FMLA regulations currently provide leave to care for certain military members with serious injuries or illness.
Military caregiver leave has been expanded to include leave to care for covered veterans who are undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy for a serious injury or illness. A covered veteran is an individual who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable in the five-year period prior to the date the employee’s military caregiver leave begins.
Regarding intermittent leave, the new regulations clarify that employers must use the shortest increment of time the employer uses to account for other forms of leave, provided it is not greater than one hour. For example, if an employer allows an employee to take vacation in 15-minute increments, it must allow employees to take FMLA in 15-minute increments.
Airline Flight Crew Eligibility
The new regulations state airline flight crew employees meet the FMLA hours-of-service eligibility requirement if they:
(1) have worked or been paid not less than 60 percent of the applicable total monthly guarantee (i.e., not less than 60 percent of the minimum number of hours an employer has agreed to schedule the employee), and
(2) have worked or been paid for not less then 504 hours during the previous 12 months.
Airline employees who are not flight crew members continue to be covered under the general FMLA hours-of-service eligibility standard (1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months).
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
The regulations include a reminder to employers of their obligation to comply with the confidentiality requirements of GINA to the extent records and documents created for FMLA purposes contain family medical history or genetic information.
Under both FMLA and GINA, employee information relating to medical certification or family medical history must be maintained as confidential medical records in separate files from the usual personnel files, and may only be disclosed under certain limited circumstances.
New FMLA Poster/Forms
In addition to the above, the DOL has published an updated FMLA poster for covered employers (i.e., employers with 50+ employees), as well as several updated (optional-use) forms. The new poster, which must be posted by March 8, 2013, is available on the DOL website. California employers should use caution when using the DOL’s forms, which may not be compliant with state law.
FMLA covered employers should review their policies and forms to ensure consistency with the new regulations. Employers should confirm they are properly accounting for intermittent leave (increments of one hour, or shorter if other forms of leave are permitted in shorter increments). Employers should be aware of and provide qualifying exigency and military caregiver leave when needed.
Finally, covered employers should replace their current FMLA posters with the revised poster and review recordkeeping policy and practice to ensure compliance with FMLA and GINA.