Congress Considering Wider FMLA Protection

Congress Considering Wider FMLA Protection

At the same time that employers are wailing about employees taking Family and Medical Leave protected under the FMLA, Congress continues to consider broadening its protection.  We are witnessing a cultural divide between employers, used to dictating the schedules of their employees, and employees, clamoring for more work-life balance.    Articles constantly tell us that the younger generation, especially, demands accommodation for having a life.  They also remind us that the baby boomer generation is in a sandwich, caring for younger children, and aging parents.  Sometimes these responsibilities just do not fit with a typical work schedule.

One of the recent tweaks would allow employees to take FMLA leave to participate in or attend children’s and grandchildren’s school and after-school activities.  The time is limited to 4 hours in any month, and 24 hours in a year.  The bill would also allow, subject to the same time limitations, time off for routine family medical or dental care needs, and attending to the needs of elderly family members, including nursing home visits.

This law is called the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act of 2011.

Another proposed amendment should be less controversial.  The Parental Bereavement Act of 2011, S.1358, would provide leave to an employee under the FMLA following the death of a son or daughter.  Unfortunately, there apparently is a need for this law.  It is hard to fathom how an employer could deny a bereaved parent of leave after a child’s death.  If the law passes, however, employers with more than 50 will not be able to fire a parent for not returning immediately to work.  The bill specifies that the leave must be taken as a block of time.  If the employer agrees, the employee may use it intermittently or to take a reduced schedule.

Ultimately, these laws improve our economy.  People who can take their children to the doctor without losing a job can pursue a wider array of jobs, and work to their full capacity.  As telework becomes more widespread, and checking on email and phone messages after hours becomes required, the line between work and personal life is already blurry.  Employers have employees’ attention at home; they should allow them to leave the office now and then.

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