The Family & Medical Leave Act was designed to protect the jobs of eligible employees during difficult emotional times caused by their own serious health condition or that of a loved one. When you’re dealing with a grave situation, the last thing you need (or want) to worry about is your job security.
While the law is designed to protect you and other eligible parties, there are a few things you need to know about what you should expect during your FMLA leave and upon your return. After all, you don’t want any surprises. Understanding what to expect can help you recognize when something is amiss.
Before You Take FMLA Leave
There are many reasons you would go on FMLA leave. Some are planned; while some are sudden. If you are going out for planned leave as in the case of scheduled surgery, pregnancy, adoption (particularly from a foreign country when you know you’re leaving), or other known leave date, you’ll want to speak to your HR department. Some of the things you’ll discuss will be:
Whether you company requires you to use accrued paid time off to cover some or all of your FMLA leave.
Paperwork that must be filled out.
Whether your leave will be full-time or intermittent.
Whether a medical certification is required.
How benefits other than health insurance will be dealt with during leave.
Make sure if there is any paperwork to process that you do so before taking leave. You don’t want the concern of unfinished paperwork hanging over your head.
If your leave is unexpected, you are expected to contact your employer and complete any paperwork they need within a “reasonable” time. A “reasonable time” is generally thought to be a few business days, but depends largely on circumstances that require that you take leave. Act promptly to notify your employer of the need for leave in conformance with their call-out or leave request procedures if at all possible. If you simply cannot comply with the employer’s procedures for any reason, take the steps necessary to get in touch with the employer as soon as practicable even if you need to ask a third party (such as your spouse or parent) to assist you by calling the employer.
What to Expect While You’re On FMLA Leave
Some employers require that medical leave be certified by a medical care provider. If that is the case, your employer must give you at least 15 calendar days to obtain the medical certification from your healthcare provider. Most medical professionals have experience with this form. They will not release your records. You’re confidentiality is safeguarded under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (more commonly known as HIPAA).
Your employer may also request its own medical certification with its choice of healthcare professionals. This is done at the employer’s cost. Should your provider and the employer’s choice disagree in their assessments, the employer may request a third review. This review is binding and the employee and employer must agree to the medical professional who will make the final assessment.
Your health insurance coverage must continue on the same terms as if you were at work but you will need to make arrangements for payment. Your FMLA leave is unpaid leave and unless paid leave benefits apply under another company policy, such as accrued vacation or sick pay, , it is likely that you will not be receiving a paycheck so those premiums which had been automatically deducted from your pay when you were not on leave are not being deducted. You need to make sure to make other arrangements to deliver your premium payments to the employer during your leave. Your employer’s obligation to continue your insurance stops if your premium payment is more than 30 days late. In this case you should receive a lack of payment notification when you are 15 days late advising you that your coverage will be terminated for nonpayment but don’t count on it. Many employees will not find out insurance has been cancelled until they are standing at the counter in the pharmacy waiting for the prescription to be filled.
Seniority and paid leave do not accrue while you are out on leave. Other benefits, like life insurance, are at the discretion of the employer and the employee. Some employers keep payments up so that the employee can return to the same level after leave instead of waiting again for open enrollment.
When You Return
This is probably the most shocking part for most employees. Employees expect to return back to the exact same job, at the same desk, with the same view, but the law does not ensure that. The law says you must be restored to your original job OR to an “equivalent one,” which means the same in pay, benefits, and other employment conditions. You also cannot be stripped of any benefits that you earned or were entitled to before you took leave.
If you just returned from FMLA leave in Florida and found a job wasn’t waiting for you, or you plan on taking FMLA leave soon and you have concerns about your employer or how something has been handled, consult with a Tampa employment attorney at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. Your initial consultation is free. Call today at (813) 224-0431.