Q. We have fewer than 50 employees so FMLA doesn’t apply to us. Are we obligated to grant medical leaves to employees?
A. Although FMLA may not apply to your organization, it’s highly recommended that you develop some type of medical leave of absence policy. Life events happen and when they do, the employer needs to be able to respond in a way that is consistent and reasonable. Does this mean you are obligated to grant 12 weeks of leave like FMLA requires? No. You can grant 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks…whatever your organization feels it can reasonably grant to an employee who is pregnant, needs surgery, etc. Does this mean you have to grant a leave of absence for the serious health condition of someone’s child, spouse, or parent? No, but it is something you should consider when drafting your policy. Again, this is about drafting a policy that can help the employee without creating an unreasonable burden to the employer.
Employers also need to be aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) do influence how we interpret our policies. Under the ADA, a leave of absence may be considered a reasonable accommodation to someone who has a disabling condition. Although the PDA doesn’t require employers to grant leaves of absence when an employee has a baby, it DOES require employers to treat pregnancy the same as it would any other medical condition that would result in a leave of absence. So, if you grant 6 weeks of leave to employees who have surgery or heart attacks, you have to grant 6 weeks of leave to the person who has a baby.
Additionally, you’ll want input from the employees health care provider to let you know when the leave will begin and the anticipated duration of the leave. A sample policy and medical certification form can be downloaded from EAF’s website.
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