Employer Notice Requirements Under the Final FMLA Regulations

The FMLA has undergone major change in the past 18 months. First, there was the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an amendment to the FMLA, which took effect in January 2008.  Then, in February, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), released its proposed regulations for public comment.  The comments were collected and the FMLA’s final regulations were published in November.  Then, on January 16, 2009, the final regulations took effect.  And, since then, employers have been operating under this new–and substantially different–set of regulations.  Whether or not they realize that there’s a new set of rules in town is a different question.

For those of you who are aware that the FMLA’s final regulations are now in place, you also probably know that the regs impose a set of new responsibilities on employers. I’ve spoken to Human Resource professionals about the final regulations several times since they were first promulgated, including at our annual employment law seminar last week, where William W. Bowser and I presented an FMLA update twice in the same day to accommodate the large number of attendees.  A single blog post is not the best way to share the many ins and outs of the new law. But I can address one topic that I consider to be critical for employers to understand: FMLA Notices.

FMLA Demonstrative

The final FMLA regs contain substantial changes in the conditions in which an employer can and must give certain FMLA-related notices to employees.  Each of these notices have a great number of complexities that employers are best advised to come to terms with now.  The new regulations are unforgiving when it comes to employer delays.  

Here’s the run-down for what employers must know about the required FMLA notices. 

General Notice 

Under the new regulations, this includes the traditional posting requirement.  If the employer has a written policy on leave and benefits or an employee handbook that includes such a policy, the same posting notice must be included.  Employers without a handbook should call me.  Then they should start providing each new employee with the general notice (posting) at the time of hire.

A few points of interest with respect to the General Notice. First, if a significant portion of your workforce is not English literate, the posting must be translated into their language(s).  Second, an employer who is FMLA covered must post the General Notice at all work sites, regardless of whether a work site has any FMLA-eligible employees.

Eligibility Notice and Rights and Responsibilities Notice

Once an employee requests leave, or the employer becomes aware that an employee may qualify for FMLA-protected leave, the employer must give two more notices:  the Eligibility Notice and the Rights & Responsibilities Notice.  Eligibility Notice must be given within 5 business days and must tell the employee whether or not he or she is eligible for FMLA.  If the employee is not eligible, the Notice must provide at least one reason why not.  If the employee has another request for leave in the same 12-month period, the Eligibility Notice need not be issued again unless the employee’s eligibility status has changed.

At the same time, the employer must inform the employee of his rights and responsibilities as provided by the FMLA.  Specifically, the notice must state that the leave may be designated as and deducted from any existing FMLA entitlement and it must identify the 12-month period being used when making an FMLA determination.  Most critical, though, is the requirement that the employee be notified of his responsibilities, if any, with respect to providing a medical certification. 

If the employee will be required to provide a medical certification of his or his family member’s serious health condition or, in the case of military family leave, certification of a qualifying exigency, he must be informed of this requirement now.  The DOL’s certification form can (should) be included with the rights and responsibilities notice. 

Designation Notice

If the employee does not return a medical certification, the employer has no further obligations with respect to notices.  But, if the employee does come back with the certification as requested, the employer’s final notice requirement is triggered.  Once the employer has sufficient information to make a determination about whether FMLA will apply to the leave, it must notify the employee of its designation. 

If the leave will not be designated as FMLA, the notice must tell the employee why the leave is not deemed qualifying.  If the leave will be designated, the employee must be notified of the number of designated hours, days, or weeks. 

Key at this stage is the requirement that the notice include information about a fitness-for-duty certification requirement if the employer has one.  And a list of essential job duties if the FFD must address the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions. Just to recap this critical requirement, let me point out that, along with a designation notice, the employer must inform the employee that a FFD will be required or waive the ability to require it.  And, to top it off, if you fail to include a list of essential job duties, the FFD will be based on the employee’s own description of his or her job duties.  Not ideal.

Summary

In case you missed it, here’s what you need to know when it comes to FMLA leave notices.  Using the handy-dandy image, above, here’s the timeline.  First, you’ve got to comply with the General Notice requirements–in the form of a posting and policy.  Second, once the employee gives notice of the need for FMLA leave (or you learn of the need otherwise), you must give an Eligibility Notice, informing the employee of his or her eligibility status.  At the same time, you must provide the Rights & Responsibilities Notice, including a notice to the employee that he must provide a certification if one is going to be required.  Assuming the employee returns the required certification, then you must designate the leave as FMLA, non-FMLA, or inform the employee that you do not have sufficient information to make the designation.  And, if you will require the employee to provide a fitness-for-duty certification, you must put him on notice now. 

These now-or-never requirements of the FMLA final regulations require employers to do some real advance planning.  Employers must determine when they will require an employee to provide a certification and under what conditions a fitness-for-duty certification will be necessary.  As if that’s not enough work to do, you must also have the essential job functions prepared and ready to go when you send out the FFD information.  That’s a lot of planning so if you haven’t gotten started, there’s no time like the present.

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FLSA 105: Recordkeeping Requirements

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), requires employers to make, keep, and preserve records regarding employees and employee compensation.  The FLSA provides a 15-item list of the types of information that the employer has the obligation to obtain.  All primary sources of this information must be preserved for a period of three years for all current and former employees.  All supplementary sources must be preserved for at least two years.  deptoflabor

What Information Am I Required to Keep?

First, you must be familiar with the information for which you are responsible.  The list includes:

  1. Name and SSN;
  2. Home address;
  3. Date of birth if under age 19;
  4. Sex and occupation
  5. Day and time on which the workweek begins;
  6. Hourly rate of pay;
  7. Basis of pay;
  8. Nature of any payment claimed as an exclusion from the regular rate;
  9. Total hours worked for each day and each week;
  10. Total straight (i.e., non-overtime or premium) pay;
  11. Total overtime pay;
  12. Additions and deductions made, including wage assignments;
  13. Total wages paid;
  14. Date of payment and pay period covered; and
  15. The company’s sales and purchase records for purposes of determining whether it is an enterprise with an annual business volume of $500,000.

What Are the Primary and Secondary Sources of this Information?

All records that constitute primary sources of the above-listed information must be preserved for a period of three years.  Such records include:

  • payroll records;
  • work certificates;
  • CBAs; and
  • employment contracts.

Supplementary records are the documents that serve as the source documents for other payroll records. Supplementary records may include:

  • time cards;
  • production cards;
  • wage rate tables;
  • piece-rate schedules; and
  • work-time schedules.

What Else Should I Keep and Where Should I Keep It?

Although not required by the FLSA, it is a good idea to retain job descriptions, performance reviews, internal memos, job postings, handbooks, and other materials relating to wage classifications and pay practices that you could use to justify your pay practices during an audit, for a period of at least three years.

The FLSA requires that all records be kept at the place or places of employment or at one or more established central record-keeping offices, where such records are customarily maintained.  If kept outside the place of employment, they must be available within 72 hours of a request by the U.S. Department of Labor.

And, finally, don’t forget about your posting requirements.  Employers must post notices in the workplace that state the requirements of the FLSA. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), is a very challenging statute to apply correctly.  For more information about legal compliance with the federal wage and hour laws, see the following posts:

Top 5 FLSA Topics

Executive Exemptions and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

5 Words of Warning about Improper Deductions and the FLSA

FLSA FAQ: Overtime and Unpaid Leave

FLSA 101: Who Is Covered Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?

FLSA 102: Minimum Wage Requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act

FLSA 103: Defining What Constitutes “Hours Worked”

FLSA 104: Overtime and the Fair Labor Standards Act

The Intersection of Worker’s Comp, FMLA, and ADA

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and state worker’s compensation laws are not mutually exclusive. By qualifying for one, an employee is not automatically disqualified from the others.

For example, an employee who is hurt on the job is not necessarily ineligible for FMLA leave. He still must be an eligible employee, work for a covered employer, and have a serious health condition. If his on-the-job injury resulted in him being absent from work for two days, though, he would not qualify for FMLA because a serious health condition is defined, in part, as an illness or an injury that incapacitates the employee for more than three consecutive days.

And what about an employee who exhausts all of his FMLA leave but is still on disability leave? Can he be terminated if he fails to return to work at the end of the 12-week period? Certainly an employer can terminate an employee who fails to return to work after exhausting all available leave.

But there is another level to this question. If the employee is on disability under the company’s disability-insurance plan, his serious medical condition may very well qualify as a disability, as well, under the ADA. The ADA requires that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for qualified employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the courts have taken the position that an accommodation may take the form of a modified work schedule, flexible leave policy, or even just additional time off.

Whenever faced with a decision about whether to terminate an employee who is about to exhaust all of his FMLA time but is not expected to return to work, be sure to consider whether the ADA is applicable and what is required if it is.

For more information on legal compliance with the FMLA and ADA, see the posts in the HR Summer School category, which covers these topics in a comprehensive and no-nonsense style.

FLSA 104: Overtime and the Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), mandates that covered, non-exempt employees must be paid at a rate equal to one and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over forty in any given workweek.

Compliance with the overtime laws is determined by workweek and each workweek stands by itself.  A workweek is defined as 7 consecutive, 24-hour periods (168 hours), but which 7 consecutive days can be chosen by the employer.  image

The regular rate of pay is determined by dividing total earnings in the workweek by the total number of hours worked in the workweek.  The regular rate can never be less than the applicable minimum wage.  Not everything, though, is included in the calculation of the regular rate.  Excluded from the calculation are:

  • Sums paid as gifts;
  • Payments for time not worked;
  • Reimbursement for expenses;
  • Discretionary bonuses;
  • Profit-sharing plans;
  • Retirement and insurance plans;
  • Overtime premium payments; and
  • Stock options.

To determine the regular rate (RR), take the total straight-time earnings (make sure to exclude any of the above) and divide it by the total hours worked.  The overtime rate is calculated at a rate equal to the regular rate multiplied by .5.  The overtime rate is then multiplied by the number of overtime hours worked.  This amount is the total overtime premium due.  Three examples follow, below.

Example 1:  Hourly Rate and Production Bonus

Total Hours + 48     Hourly Rate = $9      Bonus $10

46 hours x $9 =432 + 10 = $442 / 48 = $9.21 (Regular Rate)

$9.21 x .5 = $4.61 x 8 hrs = $36.88 (Overtime Due)

 

Example 2:  Different Hourly Rates

Lifeguard Rate $8.50   Lifeguard Hours 21 = $178.50

Cabana Attendee $9.00    Cabana Attendee Hours  26   = $234.00

Total straight-time earnings = $412.50 / 47 hours = $8.78 (Regular Rate)

$8.78 (Regular Rate) x .5 = $4.39 (Overtime Rate)

$4.39 (Overtime Rate) x 7 hours = $30.73 (Overtime Due)

 

Example 3:  Tipped Employees

Rate Paid by Employer $2.13

Tip Credit Claimed $3.72

Regular Rate:  $5.85

Additional Half-Time Rate  $2.93

50 Hours  $5.85  =$292.50

10 hours x $2.93 =$29.30

Total Due             =$321.75 (less tip credit)

Tip Credit 50 x $3.72 =$186.00

Total Cash Wage Due = $135.75

 

For more about the basics of the FLSA, see:

FLSA 101: Who Is Covered Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?

FLSA 102: Minimum Wage Requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act

FLSA 103: Defining What Constitutes “Hours Worked”

FLSA 103: Defining What Constitutes “Hours Worked”

Employees must be paid wages for all time worked.  Period. That’s the law.  It seems simple enough but the seeming simplicity of that statement can be deceptive.  What constitutes “time worked” has remained an elusive concept for many employers.  As a result, the issue of what should be included in a calculation of the total time worked for compensation purposes, has generated a great deal of case law on the issue–some making clearer and others making the issues even more complex.

Work “suffered” is time worked.  Work that was not requested by the employer but that was “suffered” or “permitted” is considered time worked.  Then, of course, the question becomes when has an employee “suffered work.”image

Waiting time is counted as time worked when the employee is unable to use the time effectively for his own purposes and the time is controlled by the employer.   Waiting time is not counted as hours worked when the employee is completely relieved from duty; and the time is long enough to enable the employee to use it effectively for his own purpose.

On-call time is time worked when the employee has to stay on the employer’s premises or the employee has to stay so close to the employer’s premises that he cannot use that time effectively for his own purposes. But, simply being required to wear a pager or to leave word at home or with the employer about where the employee can be reached, is not considered “on-call” time that constitutes “work suffered.”

Meal periods are not hours worked when the employee is relieved of duties for the purposes of eating a meal.  But rest periods (include smoking breaks, if permitted), lasting 5 to 20 minutes are counted as time worked and must be paid accordingly. 

When traveling between work and home, employees are not considered to be working and the time spent traveling is not working time.  Travel during the normal working day between job sites is considered working time.

Time employees spend in meetings, lectures, or training, is considered hours worked and must be paid unless:

  • attendance is outside regular working hours;
  • attendance is voluntary;
  • the course, lecture, or meeting is not job-related; and
  • the employee does not perform any productive work while attending.

For more about the basics of the FLSA, see:

FLSA 101: Who Is Covered Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
FLSA 102: Minimum Wage Requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act

FLSA 102: Minimum Wage Requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), provides that covered employees must be paid no less than the current state or federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, for all hours worked. The Delaware minimum wage is $7.15 trumps the current federal minimum wage of $6.55.  image

Although the concept of minimum wage is not a complicated one, there are some issues that can blur the obviousness of the hourly wage amount.  One such issue is what exactly should be included as compensation when determining whether minimum wage has been paid for all time worked.  Included in the definition of compensation are:

  • Wages (salary, hourly, piece rate);
  • Commissions;
  • Certain bonuses;
  • Tips received by eligible tipped employees (up to $4.42 per hour); and
  • Reasonable cost of room, board , and other “facilities” provided by the employer for the employee’s benefit.

The fifth type of compensation, “board and lodging,” presents some nuances of its own.  For example, it cannot exceed the actual cost of the facilities provided and cannot include a profit for the employer.  The employer must follow good accounting practices when determining the reasonable cost.  And, if no cost is incurred, the employer may not take a credit.

Deductions from pay can present major problems when they bring an employee’s hourly wage below the minimum wage.  Deductions are illegal if:

  • Made for an item considered primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer; and
  • Reduce the employee’s earnings below the required minimum wage.

Some of the most common examples of illegal deductions include:

  • Tools used for work;
  • Required uniforms;
  • Damages to employer’s property;
  • Cash-register shortages.

Tipped employees are not as problematic as illegal deductions but can be complex.  To be considered a “tipped employee” under the FLSA, the employee must work in an occupation in which he customarily and regularly receives more than $30 per month in tips.  Tipped employees must be paid at least $2.13 per hour in cash by the employer, who may claim a “tip credit” for the rest of the minimum wage.  The employer may claim the “tip credit” only if:

  • The employer informs each tipped employee about the tip-credit allowance, including the amount to be credited before the credit is utilized;
  • The employer can document that the employee received at least enough tips to bring the total wage paid up to minimum wage or more;
  • All tips are retained by the employee and are not shared with the employer or other employees, unless through a valid tip-pooling arrangement.

An example of the FLSA’s minimum-wage requirements in action:

Employee receives $9 per hour for 40 hours plus $5 in commission and $20 in reasonable cost of room and board. 

Total earnings = $360 + $5 + $20 = $385

Total earnings / total hours = $385 / 40 = $9.63

 

See also:  FLSA 101: Who Is Covered Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?

FLSA 101: Who Is Covered Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protects more than 130 million workers in more than 7 million workplaces.  image

There are two types of coverage under the FLSA:

  • Enterprise coverage:  If an enterprise is covered, all of the enterprise’s employees are entitled to FLSA protection.
  • Individual coverage:  Even if the enterprise is not covered, individual employees may be covered and entitled to FLSA protections.

To qualify for enterprise coverage, the “enterprise” must have at least two employees and must generate at lease $500,000 per year in business.  For the purposes of the FLSA, enterprises include:

  • Hospitals;
  • Businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents;
  • Schools;
  • Preschools; and
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies.

To qualify for individual coverage, the employee must be engaged in:

  • Interstate commerce;
  • Production of goods for commerce;
  • Closely-related process or occupation directly essential such production; or
  • Domestic service.

Don’t underestimate the first possible qualification:  employees engaged in interstate commerce.  This may include even the most minimal activity across state lines, such as:

  • Making telephone calls to other states;
  • Typing letters to other states;
  • Processing credit-card transactions;
  • Traveling to other states.

As a general rule, almost every employee in the U.S. is covered by the FLSA. Some examples of employees who may not be covered include:

  • Employees working for small construction companies;
  • Employees working for small independently owned retail or service businesses.