fmla regulations
fmla regulations

clock February 28, 2019

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FMLA vs Workers Compensation: What Every Business Owner Needs to Know

As a business owner, you probably already give your employees some paid time off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 76 percent of employees in the private industry get paid vacation days. 

On average, an employee gets 10 paid days off after one year. After five years, the average is 15 days. But there are some cases where two or three weeks isn’t enough.

The federal Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, allows certain employees up to 12 weeks off for certain events, including childbirth and adoption. Those days off are generally unpaid. 

Workers compensation policies may apply if a worker receives an on-the-job injury. But workers comp differs from FMLA regulations in several key areas. They’re designed to cover different things. 

Read on to find out everything you need to know about offering FMLA benefits to your employees.

What is FMLA? 

The Family Medical Leave Act has been around since 1993.

It’s not the same thing as paid maternity or paternity leave. In fact, the United States remains the only developed country that doesn’t require paid time off for new moms.

Some companies can choose to offer paid leave for new parents. But many do not. FMLA requires certain employers to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. 

Who are those employers? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, FMLA rules apply to “all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.”

It’s not just designed to cover the birth of a baby, although that’s what most people associate it with. FMLA benefits are also for people who have just adopted a child. 

If an employee needs to care for a spouse or family member who is seriously ill, FMLA allows them to do that. FMLA is also for employees with a “serious health condition” who need time off to recover. 

Recent changes to FMLA also make military family members eligible for paid leave. In some cases, they can get 26 weeks of leave to care for covered service members. 

Who is Eligible? 

As a private business owner, you don’t have to offer FMLA if you have fewer than 50 employees. But even if you have more than that, not all your employees will be eligible for the unpaid time off.

FMLA regulations only apply to employees who have worked for you for at least a year. They must also have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past year.

Let’s say an employee starts working for you before she knows she’s pregnant. She then has a baby eight months later. Unfortunately for her, you’re not required to hold her job while she recovers from childbirth and cares for her baby. 

On the other hand, let’s say you have an employee who works for you for 13 months. After that point, they tell you that they’re adopting a child with their partner. Because of that, they’d like to fill out FMLA paperwork.

In that case, you must both hold their job and maintain their group health insurance benefits, if applicable. That’s to keep bad bosses from telling employees, “Yeah, you still have a job. But you no longer have health insurance.”

Maintaining health benefits is even more important for someone taking a medical leave of absence. Fighting a serious disease like cancer is expensive even without health insurance.

Without health insurance, it’s almost impossible.

Do Workers Have to Take All 12 Weeks?

FMLA benefits are not an all-or-nothing proposition. If your employee is sick, their choices aren’t “Take three months off at the same time” or “Take no time off and deal with it.”

An employee who is fighting mental health issues may have some good days and some bad days. They can still apply for FMLA and receive unpaid time off for the days when they are struggling.

Many new parents also only use a portion of their time off. Most new parents can’t afford to go without one person’s income for three whole months. FMLA policy allows for that. 

FMLA and Workers Compensation

What if someone returns from FMLA, then falls down and injures themselves on the job a month later? In that case, they would qualify for workers compensation.

If you run a business, you should have a workers compensation insurance policy in the state. Almost every state requires it, although Texas is one big exception.

It’s especially important in a state like Florida. The Sunshine State has some of the most stringent worker’s comp requirements in the country.

You may be wondering, “What’s the difference between workers comp and FMLA?” The former takes care of employees who get hurt on the job. The latter does not.

You may think, “I don’t need workers comp insurance unless I’m running a construction business.” That’s not true.

Construction workers do have higher rates of on-the-job injury and death, but any employee can get hurt on the job. In Florida, you need workers comp insurance if you’re running a non-construction business with at least four employees.

FMLA may never apply to your business. If you never plan on hiring 50 employees that’s fine. But the minimum number of employees for workers compensation insurance is much lower. 

Workers compensation means your injured employee gets covered for “reasonable” medical costs associated with their on-the-job injury. Depending on the nature of the injury, they may also receive disability benefits. 

What Counts as a Work Injury?

Obviously, pregnancy is not an on-the-job injury. If someone is giving birth, they qualify for FMLA. But there are other cases where the line isn’t so clear-cut.

As an example, let’s say an employee breaks their arm in a car accident. If they were in a company vehicle and on company time, they could get covered by workers compensation.

But what if they were driving to the grocery store on the weekend? In that case, the injury had nothing to do with their workplace.

They can still seek medical treatment under your company’s group health care plan, though. They are also eligible for FMLA job protection and health insurance protection. 

Understanding FMLA Regulations

FMLA regulations and workers comp can get confusing, but it’s your job as a business owner to figure it out. No one says you have to do it alone. 

Our company has more than 15 years of combined experience helping business owners find solutions that make sense for their employees. Contact us today for help. 

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