This afternoon, one of your employees met with you to request a maternity leave. She’s due in six months, and she’d like to take some time off after having the baby to heal and to bond with her new little bundle of joy. You’re extremely happy for her, but you’re also unsure of how leaves of absence work in small businesses. Does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) apply? Should you follow state guidelines? What happens if you have no parental-leave policies in writing? Have no fear, we have the answers for you.
The Basics of the Family and Medical Leave Act
In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act was created so that eligible employees would be able to take unpaid, job-protected time off work to care for a family member or attend to their own medical issues. Employees are able to take up to twelve work weeks of leave in a twelve-month period if their employer is covered under FMLA regulations. Similarly, an eligible employee can take up to 26 workweeks to care for a service member (as long as the employee is the son, daughter, spouse, parent or next of kin of the service member) in a 12-month period.
To qualify for the FMLA, your employee must meet the following criteria:
- (S)he must work for a covered employer (you can help your employee determine that by reading the description below).
- (S)he must have worked for you for at least twelve months prior to the date the leave of absence will begin.
- (S)he must have completed 1,250 hours of work during the immediate twelve months prior to the date the leave will begin.
- His or her employer has 50 individuals on payroll within 75 miles of the employee’s work site.
These are the four basic sets of criteria to qualify a leave, though your employees should also be giving you 30 days’ notice of their request (except in unforeseeable situations), and you may also request certification from a qualified medical professional for a requested leave.
Must Your Business Comply With FMLA Regulations?
So, what exactly is a covered employer? Simple—it’s a private-sector employer, a public agency, or a school. For private-sector employers, FMLA regulations include your business if you employ 50 or more individuals during 20 (or more) work weeks in the current or previous calendar year. However, it’s important to double-check that your business is actually a covered employer. To make it easier for employers, the Department of Labor (DoL) created an in-depth Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act that will help you identify if your business is considered a covered employer under FMLA guidelines (and it will fully explain the entire law clearly!).
If you’re a small-business owner that employs 50 or more staff members, remember to provide a general notice to your employees regarding the FMLA guidelines. To do this, you must post the information where employees and applicants are able to see it, even if there are currently no employees in the organization who would be eligible to take leave. In addition to the posting, employers also need to provide eligible employees a written notice in a place such as the employee handbook. Companies who hire a significant amount of staff who are limited in their understanding of English must provide the notice (both in writing and posted) in both English and their native languages.
Regardless of whether your small business must comply with FMLA guidelines, it’s also important to learn the state regulations for parental leaves of absences. FMLA allows for states to set more expansive standards than the federal law. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides detailed explanations of state regulations regarding a medical or family leave of absence. Three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—even have paid leave programs your employees may qualify for.
So what happens if you’re not a covered employer? Maybe your private-sector team consists of 1, 15, 30 or even 45 employees. Are you still governed by the Family and Medical Leave Act? The answer is technically no, though we urge you to have your broker or lawyer double check on your covered employer status.
Even if you’re not covered under FMLA guidelines because your business is too small, it’s still important to create a parental-leave policy and a medical-leave policy, and put it in writing. PewResearchCenter reports that millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, which means that your chance to have an employee who is expanding their family is very high. Similarly, accidents and illnesses can occur at a moment’s notice, and even your most healthy employees many request time off to recuperate. Keep your business healthy and nurture your employees by planning ahead!