Benefits & Compensation News

Think handling FMLA is tough now? Just wait …

FMLA administration is one of the most difficult tasks for HR and benefits pros. And based on some recent activity, it appears compliance is only going to become more of a challenge moving forward.

As you know, the DOL recently issued a final FMLA rule that effectively expanded the law. But those changes may just be the tip of the iceberg.

That’s because it appears a number of influential current and former politicians are hoping to use the momentum of the FMLA’s 20th anniversary as a springboard to ensure that workers can get paid leave when they can’t afford to take the time unpaid.

Case in point: On the anniversary of the date the law took effect, former President Bill Clinton — who is responsible for signing the FMLA into law — along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) pushed for an expanded FMLA bill that would ensure paid family and medical leave for those employees that couldn’t afford to take 12 weeks unpaid.

While addressing the DOL, Clinton urged the agency to think about the positive aspects of the current law while simultaneously pushing for greater leave protections.

“People desperately want to have successful families, to be good parents, to have a job and succeed at it,” Clinton said, “If you take one away to get the other, the country pays a grievous price and every life is diminished. I’ve had more people mention the family leave law to me, both while I was in the White House and in the 12 years since I’ve been gone, than any other single piece of legislation I signed.”

And he also addressed the partisan divide that has prevented expanded leave legislation from moving forward. “I think it’s important as we move ahead not to forget about this,” said Clinton. “This used to have a fair amount of Republican as well as Democratic support.”

In addition to Clinton, President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to consider expanding the FMLA by stating, “Let us also recommit ourselves to the values that inspired the law and redouble our efforts on behalf of fairer workplaces and healthier, more secure families.”

Pending bills on paid sick time

On top of the push for yet-to-be-determined expanded FMLA legislation, a number of bills aimed at providing workers with paid leave time have already been submitted to Congress for consideration.

First, there’s the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act, which was introduced by Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Gerald Connolly (D-VA), along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). The bill would provide all federal employees with four weeks of paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

Then, there’s the Healthy Families Act, which was just reintroduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep.  Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Under the Healthy Families Act, employees would be given the opportunity to earn a minimum of seven paid sick days (56 hours) annually to care for themselves or for their families.

The bill would allow employees to use their paid sick time to care for themselves or care for a child, parent, spouse or “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship” (e.g., same-sex partners or spouses).

 What about bereavement leave?

In addition to bringing paid leave into the mix, there’s been a renewed push to add to the list of activities workers can take FMLA leave for. One such activity is bereavement.

Sen. Jon Tester (D. MT) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) are once again asking Congress to consider the Parental Bereavement Act.

The bill would amend the current FMLA regs to allow parents grieving from the death of their son or daughter to receive up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off.

According to Israel, “Parents should never have to decide between their job and taking the proper time needed for both themselves and the rest of their family to mourn the death of a child. It is simply common sense that they should be able to use FMLA leave to grieve for their loss. The legislation Sen. Tester and I introduced today will allow parents to take the time they need, knowing that their job will be protected.”

The bill was first considered back in 2011, but it never got passed. Now Tester and Israel hoping the renewed focus on expanding FMLA leave will be enough to carry this bill through Congress.

It’s worth noting that even if the Parental Bereavement Act passes, small businesses (those with fewer than 50 full-time employers) won’t be affected — as they’re not required to comply with the FMLA.

What’s more, a significant number of larger employers already offer some type of bereavement leave/paid time off for employees — albeit not to the extent of 12 weeks of leave time.

We’ll keep you posted on any developments on pending legislation and expanded leave efforts.

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