Are attitudes about family and medical leave changing?

Employment laws offer certain protections to workers experiencing a family or medical life event. However, there may be procedural technicalities. Read on.

Balancing work and family obligations can be a difficult task, in spite of various employment laws that provide rights and protections to workers experiencing significant life events, such as the birth of a child.

From a legal standpoint, pregnant employees may be eligible for the same rights as workers with a temporary disability. That status may invoke both federal and state employment law protections. For example, an employee may be able to apply accrued sick, vacation or other leave toward maternity or paternity leave. In addition, reasonable accommodations might also be available, such as working remotely or an adjusted work schedule. Shepherd Finkelman Miller & Shah, LLP ("SFMS") can help both employers and employees understand their rights and obligations under applicable federal and state laws.

Federal law protections

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") requires public and private employers with a minimum of 50 employees, public agencies, and public and private elementary schools to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons, such as the birth and care of a newborn child. An employee that utilizes leave under the FMLA should have assurance that his or her job is protected during any approved absence.

Another federal law is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA"). The PPACA, which the U.S. Department of Labor classifies under its Wage and Hour Division, requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private onsite location for an employee to express milk for a nursing child for up to one year after the birth of the child.

State law protections

Finally, state employment laws may also provide benefits that are greater than their federal counterparts, such as the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act. Under that state law, eligible employees may be entitled to take 16 weeks of leave in a given 24-month period.

Yet despite these workplace protections, a recent article observes that the percentage of professional women in the workplace is declining, after years of increasing. That trend is puzzling, considering that women earn more higher education degrees than men, constituting approximately 59 percent of total degree recipients.

Re-examining employment leave policies and rationales

A report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors suggests that paid leave might help stop the decline. The report indicates that around 59 percent of American workers are offered paid maternity leave by their employers. Some employers, like Google, have independently implemented such polices. Maternity-related attrition decreased by about 50 percent at Google after the company increased paid maternity leave from three to five months.

As federal and state lawmakers continue to examine existing medical and health leave policies, it will be important for employers and employees alike to stay current in the latest developments. Even under existing FMLA requirements, employment disputes can arise when an employee fails to observe the law’s strict procedural requirements for eligibility. A consultation with SFMS may help avoid missteps.

If you have any questions regarding this subject or this posting, please contact James E. Miller (jmiller@sfmslaw.com) or Michael Ols (mols@sfmslaw.com). We can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

SFMS is a law firm with offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. SFMS also maintains Howard Brown (Of Counsel) is an active member of Integrated Advisory Group (www.iaginternational.org), which provides us with the ability to provide our clients with access to excellent legal and accounting resources throughout the globe. For more information about our firm, please visit us at www.sfmslaw.com.

Keywords: FMLA, employment law, Family and Medical Leave Act, unpaid leave, reasonable accommodations