Tip of the week: Meet FMLA requirements

Residency Program Insider, May 31, 2011

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As more residents embrace clinical work and parenthood, it's important to educate yourself and inform ­others about legal requirements concerning family leave. Remember that special circumstances such as illness or life events can pop up at any time.

Once residents have worked for your organization for 12 months and a total of 1,250 hours during that one-year period, they are entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). Disseminating this information to residents is crucial, and the task typically falls to the program coordinator or director.

You must distribute a notice of FMLA rights and obligations to residents. Usually this ­happens during or shortly after orientation, says Forrest Read IV, Esq., an attorney with Epstein Becker & Green, PC, in Washington, DC, who practices ­employment law in the healthcare field. Additionally, once residents are eligible for and request leave, you must provide this information again.

What's most important is that residents know they can qualify for this leave, Read says. "PGY1s are not ­going to be under the FMLA umbrella. But their ­coverage would kick in once they reach those thresholds, let's say at the PGY2 level. Once they're a PGY2 [who have been with your program since the beginning of ­residency], they will be entitled to FMLA coverage for the duration of their residency."

Although those who qualify for this leave may never use it, you must know and follow the law surrounding it and communicate its benefits to residents.

Under the FMLA, an employee who meets the required time and work-hour thresholds can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off within a one-year time frame for any of the following reasons:

  • The birth and care of a newborn. If both of the child's parents work for the same institution, they must split the 12 weeks of leave ­between them (e.g., six weeks each; four weeks for one, eight weeks for the other). Time off for the ­parent(s) must ­occur within 12 months of the child's birth.
  • Adoption or foster care placement of a child with a resident. Similar to the newborn rule, the same time-splitting rule applies if both parents work at the hospital and adopt a child or start providing foster care. Again, the time off must happen within one year of the child's placement in the home.
  • Caring for a close family member (i.e., a spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health ­condition. According to the FMLA, a serious health condition is defined as "an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition" that involves either an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility, or ongoing treatment by a healthcare provider. A married couple working at the same institution gets 12 weeks combined to care for a sick parent.
  • Medical leave when the resident cannot work because of a serious health condition. The same definition as above applies for "serious health ­condition." (For specifics, see­compliance/whdfs28.pdf.)
  • Qualifying circumstances that arise from the fact that the resident's spouse, child, or parent is on active duty or called to active-duty status as a member of the National Guard or Reserves. Rules here changed in 2009 due to amendments to the FMLA that added new leave entitlements for military families. For details, see­fmla/­finalrule/MilitaryFAQs.pdf.

This week's tip is an excerpt from Residency Program Alert.

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