Family and Medical Leave Act rules change for 2009

Liberty Mutual has created a Web site to provide a single source of information for employee benefit brokers and employers struggling to understand and comply with recent significant rule changes governing federal and state family medical leave.

The Liberty Mutual Web site provides key information on two new regulations that dramatically change how employers manage family medical leave. The first is the Family and Medical Leave Act Final Rule, which became effective on January 16, 2009. The second new rule is New Jersey's state paid leave program, which went live on January 1, 2009. The site answers frequently asked questions about each law and provides links to the federal and New Jersey departments of labor.

"Consolidating information in a single location gives brokers and employers a fast and easy way to understand these changes and will help them in their compliance efforts," notes Joanne Archer, who oversees the area of Liberty Mutual that manages family medical leave for more than 700,000 employees of Liberty Mutual policyholders. "And these changes are dramatic. The updated federal regulation alone launches new types of leave, alters long held definitions and adds many new requirements for employers and employees."

Some of the key rule changes in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act include:

  • Two new military family leave programs – The first, Military Caregiver Leave, lets employees with a family member on active duty in the Regular Armed Forces take up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period, more than doubling the traditional 12 weeks of family medical leave. The second new program, Qualifying Exigency Leave, now gives employees with a family member in the National Guard or Reserves the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks of leave to deal with certain issues concerning that family member's active duty service. This was not possible under the old rules.
  • Light duty – Employers can no longer count the time an injured or disabled employee spends performing "light duty" as family medical leave, effectively increasing the total time that employee may be away from work.
  • Intermittent leave – Two big changes. First, the minimum length of a family medical leave must now mirror the time off employers give through other programs. So if an employer allows individuals a 15-minute coffee break, employees under the new rules may take family medical leave in 15-minute increments. Second, employees claiming to need intermittent leave for a chronic condition must now have a medical provider recertify that need every 180 days, rather than every year as required by the original rules.
  • Concurrent leave – Now, employers can require that employees take any time available in paid time off programs – such as vacation or sick time – at the same time as family medical leave. This helps limit the total time an employee may be away from work by preventing him or her from taking up to 12 weeks of family leave in addition to time through other programs.
  • Bonuses and awards – The new rules change how employers must handle incentive bonuses and awards for employees taking family medical leave. Employers can now deny a bonus or award to employees who took family leave, as long as employers treat employees who were away from work on other programs in the same way.

The New Jersey Paid Family Leave Law allows eligible employees to take up to six weeks of paid leave in a 12-month period to bond with a new child, or care for a seriously ill relative. While employees exclusively fund the new program, the rules place certain notification and tracking requirements on employers.

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