All employers with payrolls approaching 50 employees or more must be cognizant of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). If an employer has 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, the employer must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to qualifying employees. [1] Furthermore, employers subject to the FMLA must provide written notice of its application to employees and must have procedures in place to meet the applicable deadlines relating to the employer’s response to requests for such leave. Failure to properly honor a request for such leave, failure to comply with the deadlines relating to such requests, or retaliating against an employee for requesting or exercising his/her right to such leave can result in violations of the law. However, proper written policies and training for employees supervising the application of FMLA leave can prevent such lawsuits from ever arising.

On June 27, 2012, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a new guidebook intended to assist employers and employees with navigating the historically complicated FMLA. Titled “The Employee’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act.” The guidebook explains and analyzes the rights granted by the FMLA. The guidebook does not change any of the FMLA’s regulations but rather attempts to set out the FMLA’s requirements in simple terms for the asserted benefit of employees and employers alike.

We anticipate that employees mainly will use the guidebook as a reference to determine their initial rights under the FMLA, such as whether they are eligible for and when they can use FMLA leave. Employees will also likely use the guidebook to “check” their employer’s FMLA decisions. In fact, the end of the manual outlines how an employee can file a complaint with the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division if the employee believes that his or her FMLA rights were violated. Employers will likely see an increase in the number of employees requesting FMLA leave because the manual provides employees with a simplified version of their leave rights.

As always, employers must be cautious when dealing with an employee who has requested FMLA leave.

[1] 26 weeks of unpaid leave to qualifying employees who must care for a family member injured on active duty in the military.