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Understanding FMLA and Its Impact on Education Policy

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If you took a poll of professionals in America, most would probably say they have heard of the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, but a much smaller number could actually tell you what it does and how it impacts them. In fact, I have worked with numerous people during my career who had never heard of the program.

I am often asked, "Isn't FMLA what women go on when they have a baby. It's maternity leave, right? That's not something men can take advantage." Some of this misinformation can be attributed to employers doing a poor job of communicating what FMLA covers and who is eligible for the program. Here's the real story.

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 was part of President Bill Clinton's first term agenda. The law was designed to help Americans balance work, family, and health by allowing eligible employees to take unpaid job leave for medical or specific family reasons while still receiving health insurance and other coverage. FMLA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.


The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hours Division has created an easy to understand "plain language" guide around FMLA and other employment laws. It is accessible for free on their website.

FMLA Employee Guide

The guide contains information on coverage and eligibility (who can use FMLA), rights and protections (what does this law do for you), reasons to take FMLA (why), how requests for leave should be handled, medical certifications needed, returning to work after using FMLA, and how to file a complaint. It also has built-in flow charts (decision trees) to help answer employee questions more quickly and accurately, as well as definitions for a number commonly misunderstood terms found in the FMLA and other employee policies. The Wage and Hours Division even recorded a webinar around FMLA basics that is available for anyone to download.

The U.S. Department of Labor website also has a variety of FMLA "Fact Sheets" available in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese. These are fantastic resources that districts can easily (and legally) take advantage of!

Why is this important for K-12 talent managers? First, all employees in an organization should understand what benefits they have available, and it is the job of the district HR department to communicate this information in a palatable way. It also has particular significance for districts that have or are considering attendance as a factor in their evaluation systems and/or in determining teacher pay and rewards. Time off for FMLA purposes cannot be used "against" an employee (for example, you could not withhold a bonus or other reward). They must be treated like any other staff member who was present in school during that time.

Information about these and other employment issues can be found in the resources I referenced above. If you still have questions about FMLA, I would suggest contacting your HR department. And, if you work in the HR department and still have questions, I suggest calling your district's attorney to get their advice on legal issues!

For more information on human capital, talent management, or continuous improvement in education, you can follow Emily Douglas (@EmilyDouglasHC) on Twitter.

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