Improvement or Roadblock? New FMLA Proposal Raises Eyebrows

Remaining on top of ever-changing employment laws is one of the top challenges for business owners and the human resources department. As a professional in HR, it’s your job to keep updated with employment laws and ensure your company complies with state, national, and state regulations.

The U.S Department of Labor (DOL) is currently proposing revisions to its Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) optional-use forms in an effort to make it easier for public use. Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to job-protected, unpaid leave for family and health reasons. As of August 5, 2019, the DOL is seeking comments from the public on these FMLA form revisions through October 4, 2019.

Breakdown of FMLA Proposed Form Revisions

At first glance, the new FMLA proposal is intended to improve overall ease for employees seeking leave, healthcare providers, employers, and management, and does not seem to have a significant impact on the purpose of the FMLA. 

Here’s a breakdown of the other proposed changes offered:

  • Layout and formatting change to reduce white space
  • Fewer questions requiring written responses, replaced by statements that can be verified by checking a box
  • Reorganizing the layout of medical certification forms to efficiently determine if a medical condition is considered serious under FMLA standards
  • Clarifications of medical circumstances to reduce follow-up information for healthcare providers

To learn more about the forms the DOL is proposing to update and see the rest of the revisions, click here

Less is More? Changes Can Improve FMLA Compliance 

For the DOL, “The goal in revising the forms is to increase compliance with the FMLA, improve customer service, and reduce the burden on the public by making the forms easier to understand and use.” While the layout and style changes reduce blank space on the form and offer better readability, it’s DOL’s other revisions garnering mixed responses. 

First, let’s examine the benefits of this revised FMLA form:

  • Replacing questions that require long written responses with simple checkboxes reduces the confusion from a healthcare provider’s poor handwriting on medical certification
  • Checkboxes and organized template of questions cut down the need for clarification from physicians about whether the employee has a serious medical condition and the need and duration of treatment, preventing delays in leave being designated as FMLA
  • The proposed form asks about the patient’s future treatment and future inpatient status while the current one does not — this is important because employees need to provide notice 30 days in advance of their foreseeable leave
  • Encourages information that supports future leaves for chronic and long-term conditions

For employees, the process of filing for FMLA leave and attaining the proper medical certification for employers to determine whether the proposed leave qualifies for FMLA is tedious and requires lengthy paperwork. Simplifying this process of filling out FMLA forms that healthcare providers generally dislike would be welcomed for both parties. 

As for managers and HR professionals, clarifications on the circumstances of the employee’s medical condition and future treatment would aid in the proper FMLA designation time, monitoring of absences, and calculation of leave entitlement such as health insurance benefits.

The Drawbacks of a New Form

While improving efficiency is certainly beneficial for all parties involved, the new forms are not without their potential risks. Concerns include:

  • The revised layout can lead to doctors missing some checkboxes or checking boxes in multiple categories and answer questions that don’t address the circumstances for leaving. 
  • New questions may call for healthcare providers to make a legal conclusion on the spot rather than providing employers with the information and letting them make the final call.
  • By putting checkboxes instead of detailed written responses, companies may not have enough information to make a determination on the employee’s request.

The Future of FMLA Retaliation and Interference Cases

So, what exactly are the implications of this revised FMLA form and why does it matter in the grand scheme of the benefits and HR world?

The revised FMLA form would allow employees to file for FMLA more efficiently and further protect their health and welfare. Cases of employees unjustly getting laid off due to FMLA request, being denied leave because the medical condition cited does not qualify as being “serious,” or failure to provide required notices can be prevented with these revisions to the FMLA forms. 

Under FMLA, deciding whether an employee’s reason for leave falls under the category of serious health conditions or qualifying circumstances is difficult because these definitions are subjective and always evolving. For those in HR and the employers’ end, these proposals would help enforce a more specific, detailed, and consistent FMLA policy. This would go towards guarding against FMLA abuse because it doesn’t allow for open-ended leave for employees. 

However, the most worrying concern for HR and businesses regarding FMLA is when supervisors incorrectly respond to FMLA time-off requests, either not notifying HR when an employee is taking time off or violating the law’s retaliation and interference provisions. 

For example, an employee has a minor medical condition that requires intermittent leave and during the third request for FMLA leave, the manager fires him/her claiming failure to adhere to the attendance policy. The employee could then claim for FMLA retaliation and win if the need for time off is proven. The revised FMLA form may help a long way towards preventing such cases because it encourages necessary information about an employee’s medical condition for managers and HR.

Benefits Quarterback

Working in HR, you have to correctly navigate through the complexities of FMLA and stay on your toes to prevent legal nightmares like an FMLA violation. It’s difficult, we know — it’s why we’re here. Powered by Hampton Consulting Corporation, Benefits Quarterback is a trustworthy human resource solution designed to help you with the administration, compliance and fiscal management of Health & Welfare Benefits through integrated HR technology. Learn what our Benefits QB gameplan can save you by taking our two-minute drill.