Many employers have a general understanding of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, but the particulars can be a bit fuzzy. Because missteps in FMLA compliance can lead to conflicts with employees and even costly lawsuits, it is important to be familiar with the requirements. Here is a primer that was sent to our clients in our Focus newsletter. (Please send me an email if you would like to be added to our mailing list.)

FMLA basics

The FMLA requires covered employees to allow eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave (or paid leave if the employer’s policy allows for it) during any 12 months for certain family or health related reasons, such as the employee’s own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition or a newborn or newly adopted child.

The rules differ slightly when an employee is caring for an injured or ill family member who’s in the military. One of the differences is that the employee’s leave may be allowed to extend to 26 weeks in a 12-month period.

Your PR firm generally will be considered a covered employer if it’s had 50 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more weeks in the current or proceeding calendar year.

To be eligible for FMLA leave, employees must meet several requirements. Among them: The employee must have worked for your company for at least 12 months. The months don’t have to be consecutive; even seasonal work can count toward that 12-month minimum. However, the employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

Definition of a “parent”

While it is often assumed that an individual using FMLA to take leave of absence is the actual parent or legal guardian of a child, that is not always the requirement. An employee can take leave if he or she has an “in loco parentis” relationship with the child. That is, the employee has the daily care and financial responsibilities of a parent, yet has no legal or biological connection to the child.

An employee also can use the FMLA for leave to care for parent who is injured or ill. Again, the word “parent” can be defined rather broadly, including biological, step, foster, and adoptive parents, as well as individuals who acted as “in loco parentis” to the employee.

Other requirements

Employees can take their leave in a single block of time, or, in certain circumstances, in multiple smaller blocks. An employee using multiple blocks, however, must try to schedule them in a manner that minimizes disruption to the employer.

If the leave is foreseeable (not an emergency), advance notice is required. You can require documentation about the health condition that is prompting the advance FMLA request in order to determine whether the leave is covered under the FMLA. However, the employee does not have to disclose the diagnosis.

While an employee is on leave, you must allow his or her health benefits (if you provide them) to be maintained. But you can require the employee to cover more or all of these costs while on leave.

When an employee returns from leave, you generally must tallow him or her to return to the same or an equivalent position, earning pay and benefits equivalent to what he or she earned before taking the leave. This does not automatically hold true for what the department of labor  terms “key” employees, however.

Be in the know

Make sure your HR department has a solid understanding o the FMLA. Doing so will help ensure you remain in compliance and minimize the likelihood of costly lawsuits.

More information on the FMLA can be found on the Department of Labor’s website at dol.gov. (Click on the topic “Leave Benefits” and subtopic “Family & Medical Leave.”)

And more

I want to disseminate some information supplied by “Management Strategies in its January, 2013 issue. I am using this space because I believe this information is important and do not want to wait until next month. Al Croft, the publisher, can be reached at alcroft@npgcable.com.

For 2012, the average income generated per professional according to a survey of independent agency principals was $177,125. Benchmark this against yours.

According to the survey, 2012 revenue increased over 2011. 84% of independent agencies increased income in 2012 over 2011 by 12.5% (I have no idea if this is organic or by merger.)

Slightly more than half of the independent firms increased their operating profit in 2012 over 2011 by an average of 17%. The remainder were down or flat over 2011.

78% average utilization. Just under half of the firms reported average productivity of at least 80%.

Average number of billable hours - 1440. 57% of firms showed a higher billed-hours average of 1,600 hours.

Principals spent an average of 32% of their working hours chasing new business.

100% of the survey respondents expect their 2013 revenue to be up at least 12%.