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Employers may want to pre-plan for changes in medical leave laws

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gave many employees some important rights that help them balance the needs of family life against their need to remain employed. The most important benefit, for many, was the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave off to recover from childbirth, deal with the illness of a sick relative, or deal with their own illness.

Of course, FMLA's leave plan wasn't without its detractors. Employers argue that not having to pay employees means that the employees are less likely to try to abuse the system, while employee-advocates argue that many employees can't afford to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

That criticism led to a legislative campaign begun all the way back in 2013 which will, if enacted, require employers to pay up to 66 percent of an employees pay for up to 12 weeks (or 60 days, when figured annually, since they do not have to be consecutive).

The new legislation, called the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would apply to all companies, even those with fewer than 50 employees -- which means that many more companies would be affected than those affected by the FMLA.

Advocates say that it would be funded by payroll taxes, so there's no direct cost to the business -- other than the disruption and inconvenience of having to schedule around a missing employee. However, it would give low-income workers a safety net and reduce turnover.

While the FAMILY Act is still a long way from a reality, the long-term likelihood for its implementation is there -- and employers may want to start talking to their attorneys to determine how paid leave policies might be put into place ahead of the Act. This could level the playing field for smaller companies and make them more attractive, benefit-wise, to better employees.

Employers also will need the advice of legal counsel to make sure that they have an understanding of how to apply the policies fairly, in order to avoid litigation. That's generally a big concern, and the appearance of favoritism or arbitrary policies are probably the top issues about leave policies that will land a company in court.

Source: Alive, "Guest Blog: Start Preparing Now for Paid Family Leave, Employers," Molly Gwin, April 03, 2017

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