Most employers grapple with the better-known aspects of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), such as determining whether an employee’s illness constitutes a serious medical condition, obtaining required certification or providing adequate coverage for workers on intermittent leave. All too often employers focus on the leave itself and breathe a sigh of relief when notice is provided confirming the dates of leave or when the employee has resumed his or her usual schedule. But an employer’s compliance with federal law includes the obligation to maintain adequate records related to the leave. Failure to do so can have significant consequences.
What Records Must You Keep?
FMLA recordkeeping requirements can be found in a single regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 825.500. That regulation requires employers to keep and preserve records in accordance with the recordkeeping requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Records must be retained for no less than three years. Although no particular order or form is required, the records must be capable of being reviewed or copied.
Covered employers with eligible employees must also maintain records that include basic payroll and data identifying the employee’s compensation. Failure to maintain accurate records can have significant consequences for employers, who have the burden of establishing eligibility for leave. Accuracy is important: for example, the regulations demand that records document hours of leave taken in cases of leave in increments less than a full day. Lack of suitable records documenting when leave was taken can also doom an employer’s defense to claims for leave. Special rules apply to joint employment and to employees who are not covered by or are exempt from the FLSA.
Importantly, copies of employee notices of leave furnished to the employer under FMLA, if in writing, and copies of all general and specific written notices given to employees are required under FMLA regulations. The required copies may be maintained in employee personnel files. In the event of a dispute between the employer and an eligible employee regarding designation of leave as FMLA leave, employers must present the required records, including any written statement from the employer or employee regarding the reasons for the designation and for the disagreement. All too often employers fail to audit their own personnel files to confirm that the required documentation is in place.
Documents (defined to include written and electronic records) describing employee benefits or employer policies and practices regarding the taking of paid and unpaid leaves must also be maintained, along with records of premium payments, if any, of employee benefits.
Compounding The Recordkeeping Requirement: Don't Forget About Confidentiality
Of particular consequence for employers is the requirement that records and documents relating to medical certifications, recertifications or medical histories of employees or employees’ family members, created for purposes of FMLA, shall be maintained as confidential medical records separately from the usual personnel files. In those circumstances where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also applies, employers have a duty to maintain such records in conformity with the confidentiality requirements of the ADA.
Be Proactive, Audit Your Records
Well-intentioned employers recognize that it’s never too late to conduct a compliance audit to determine whether their organization is complying with FMLA requirements. Identifying and fixing any problems with your recordkeeping processes now could save a lot of headaches down the road.
Last week, we reported that several senators had introduced new amendments to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") to make it easier for plaintiffs in age discrimination cases to prove their claims. U.S. Senators aren't the only ones busy refining federal age discrimination laws - on March 30, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its final rule on the “reasonable factors other than age” (RFOA) defense under the ADEA. Acting in response to two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Smith v. City of Jackson in 2005 and Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratories in 2008, the rule bring the EEOC regulations in line with Supreme Court precedent and clarifies the scope of the RFOA defense.
In Smith, the Supreme Court held that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the ADEA. The Court further held that a practice having a disparate impact on older workers need only be justified by “reasonable” factors other than age; an employer need not satisfy the more rigorous “business necessity” defense applicable to Title VII claims. In Meacham, the Court held that the employer bears the burden of production and persuasion on the RFOA defense.
The regulation points out that the EEOC believes that “reasonable” factors other than age reflects a higher standard than a simple “rational basis” standard. According to the EEOC, equating the RFOA defense with a rational-basis standard would improperly conflate ADEA disparate-treatment and disparate-impact standards of proof: “If an employer attempting to establish the RFOA defense were only required to show that it had acted rationally, then the employer would merely be required to show that it had not engaged in intentional age discrimination.”
The rule provides a non-exhaustive list of factors to be considered in determining whether an employment practice is based on RFOA:
- The extent to which the factor is related to the employer’s stated business purpose;
- The extent to which the employer defined the factor accurately and applied the factor fairly and accurately, including the extent to which managers and supervisors were given guidance or training bout how to apply the factor and avoid discrimination;
- The extent to which the employer limited supervisors’ discretion to assess employees subjectively, particularly where the criteria that the supervisors were asked to evaluate are known to be subject to negative age-based stereotypes;
- The extent to which the employer assessed the adverse impact of its employment practice on older workers; and
- The degree of the harm to individuals within the protected age group, in terms of both the extent of injury and the numbers of persons adversely affected, and the extent to which the employer took steps to reduce the harm, in light of the burden of undertaking such steps.
The final rule makes clear that the EEOC will take a very dim view of an employer’s RFOA defense where supervisors are given broad discretion to make subjective decisions. Accordingly, prudent employers will take steps to ensure that decisions are made consistent with business purpose, that supervisors are properly trained, and that supervisors exercise their discretion in a way that does not violate the ADEA.
For more information, visit EEOC’s Questions and Answers page. The rule will take effect on April 30, 2012.
As Stoel Rives World of Employment has previously reported, Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants based on their genetic information and regulates employers’ acquisition and use of genetic information.
GINA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, labor unions, and some other entities. Laws in 34 states also prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information and some of them may apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees. On November 9, 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued final regulations to Title II of GINA.
While many employers don’t think they collect genetic information covered by the law, its definition of “genetic information” is quite broad and includes family medical history. “Genetic tests” which come under the law are becoming more common, such as tests which detect the gene thought responsible for a predisposition to breast cancer. (The regulations helpfully specify that some tests, like a cholesterol test or a drug and alcohol test, are not “genetic tests.”) The regulations broadly prohibit an employer’s efforts to obtain an applicant’s or employee’s genetic information, but do provide a safe harbor for “inadvertent acquisition.” This safe harbor will protect an employer, for example, who gains genetic information by innocently inquiring about an employee’s well-being.
But employers commonly make requests for medical information such as when asking an employee to provide a medical certification for a FMLA leave or as part of the ADA interactive process. The regulations specify that employers must tell employees – using specific language – to not disclose protected genetic information when the employer requests medical information. Not surprisingly, the regulations require employers to maintain any genetic information obtained in a separate confidential medical file. Genetic information may be kept in the same file as other medical information.
The EEOC’s helpful FAQs on GINA are here. (Question 17 contains the suggested safe harbor language.)
What should employers do?
- Revise the EEO statement to include a prohibition on discrimination based on genetic information or ensure that the EEO statement includes broad language like “and as provided by law.”
- Check to ensure that application forms or on-boarding forms don’t seek family medical history information.
- Update template communications to employees when requesting medical information to include the approved safe harbor language.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has filed several proposed rules pertaining to labor and employment law, and is inviting public comment. Click on the title of each to read the proposed rule:
- Religious worship, child support obligors, physical accommodations for eligible disabilities. The proposed rules would implement statutes:
- requiring employers to reasonably accommodate wearing of religious clothing and leave for religious practices (SB 786)
- making discrimination by employers against child support obligors an unlawful employment practice (ORS 25.424(3))
- requiring places of public accommodation to provide access to employee toilets for customers with eligible medical conditions (SB 277)
- requiring transient lodging of 175 or more units to provide lifts for individuals with disabilities (HB 3256).
- Compliance with the ADAAA, preferences for veterans, and discrimination on the basis of uniformed service. The proposed rules and amendments would implement:
- amendments to statutes providing for employment preference for veterans.
- amendments to disability discrimination statutes to conform them to the
federal Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) (SB 874)
- statutes prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of uniformed
service (HB 3256).
- amendments to statutes providing for employment preference for veterans.
- Home Health Agencies, Wage Security Fund. The proposed rule amendment would:
- implement HB 2595, enacted in 2009, which prohibits home health agencies and hospice programs from paying nurses providing home health or hospice services on a per-visit basis
- clarify conditions to be met in qualifying for payments from the Wage Security Fund and delete obsolete references in the agency’s insurance cancellation notification rules.
- Employment of Minors. The proposed rule amendment would:
- implement House Bill (HB) 2826 enacted in 2009, which removes the requirement that employers obtain a special permit before employing a minor under 16 years of age until 7 p.m. (9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day).
- conform current language in the rules to the provisions of HB 2826, which shifts authority for the issuance of agricultural overtime permits from the Wage and Hour Commission to the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries
- clarify that minors may not be employed to operate or assist in the operation of power-driven farm machinery unless the employer has obtained an employment certificate as required and the minor has received required training in the operation of such machinery.
- Rest and meal periods. The proposed rule amendment would address the provision of rest and meal periods to employees, including factors to be considered in determining when an employee is prevented from receiving regularly scheduled meal and rest periods.
- Prevailing Wage. The proposed rule amendments would make permanent the temporary rules currently in place regarding prevaling wage rates.
Click here for more information on BOLI's proposed rule changes, including information on how to make public comment and the deadlines for doing so.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) takes effect November 21, 2009. Is your workplace ready? Employers will soon be required to post a notice stating that they do not discriminate on the basis of genetic information, under proposed regulations interpreting GINA.
If you don't already have one, click here to download the full "EEO is the Law" poster, which describes all of the Federal laws prohibiting job discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, equal pay, disability and genetic information. If you already have a copy of "EEO is the Law," then you can download and print the "EEO is the Law Supplement," which contains GINA information. (If you don't want to print it yourself, or if you need the poster in Arabic, Chinese or Spanish, click here to order a copy from the EEOC.)
What else should employers do to prepare for GINA? Here's a short, non-exhaustive list of things you can do to get ready:
- Add appropriate language to your EEO and anti-discrimination policies stating that you do not discriminate on the basis of genetic information;
- Review your employment applications and employee questionnaires to make sure you are not intentionally or inadvertently requesting information about an applicant’s/employee’s family medical history;
- If you need to get information about a family member’s illness for purposes of determining whether a request for leave qualifies for Family and Medical Leave Act or state law leave coverage, make sure it is limited to only what you need to know to make the determination;
- Determine whether incoming medical information you receive on an employee contains genetic information (defined as: genetic tests of an individual or his/her family members; the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of an individual, genetic services and participation in genetic research by an individual or his/her family member) and if so, maintain and treat the information as you would a confidential medical record for ADA purposes – i.e., maintained in a separate confidential medical file with proper limitations on disclosure.
- Make sure appropriate policies and procedures are in place to prevent inadvertent disclosure of genetic information when responding to a litigation discovery request, like a subpoena. If you require a court order compelling disclosure before releasing the information, this should protect you.
- If you are a self-insured entity, make sure that you do not request or require or use purchased genetic testing or information for purposes of underwriting or to determine an individual’s contribution/premium amounts. Note that you can use genetic test results for purposes of making a determination regarding payment, though.
- Also note that genetic information is included as “protected health information” for HIPAA purposes and should be treated accordingly.
Last week the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) filed with the Secretary of State a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on new regulations pertaining to certain employee leave laws. The proposed regulations are intended to reflect some recent amendments to federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations and to clarify, edit and make housekeeping changes. The proposed rules would impact three Oregon leave statutes:
- The Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA)
- The Oregon Military Family Leave Act (OMFLA)
- The Oregon Victims of Certain Crimes Leave Act (OVCCLA)
The public (that's you!) is invited to comment on the proposed rules no later than November 13, 2009. Send comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments via regular mail should be directed to: Stef Plebanek c/o BOLI CRD, 800 NE Oregon St. #1045, Portland OR 97232.
Once the regulations are finalized, the Stoel Rives World of Employment will provide coverage of any significant rule changes.
As previously reported here at the Stoel Rives World of Employment, new federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations went into effect on January 16, 2009. Oregon has its own analog to FMLA, the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA), with its own regulations. FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees, while OFLA applies to employers with with 25 or more employees; Oregon employers with 50 or more employees are required to follow both laws.
Historically, OFLA and its regulations have tracked federal law (with a few notable exceptions that are more generous to employees). However, following implementation of the new FMLA regulations, there is now a disconnect between the two laws. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) announced recently that even though there are new discrepencies between the two laws, it will not immediately update the OFLA regulations to match the new FMLA rules. (Click here to read BOLI's press release on its decision.) Instead, BOLI will conduct informational hearings in February 2009 to determine whether updates to the OFLA regulations are warranted. In the meantime, BOLI issued this brief on implementing OFLA under the new FMLA rules, which provides an overview of the new differences between OFLA and FMLA and how employers can safely navigate the two laws.
Where does that leave Oregon employers that are covered by both OFLA and FMLA? The rule of thumb is to apply both sets of laws, and then follow the one most generous to employees. The Stoel Rives World of Employment will follow the hearings on the OFLA regulations and provide updates to let you know when and if there are any changes.
In case you haven’t heard, new Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations take effect today, Friday, January 16. Some highlights of the new regulations include:
- Regulations covering the recently instituted military family leave laws
- Expanded FMLA general notification requirements
- New individual eligibility notification and leave designation requirements
- New forms for eligibility notification, leave designation, and health care provider and military family leave certifications
- New fitness-for-duty certification requirements
- New leave tracking and notification requirements
- New certification and recertification requirements and procedures
There are too many changes to explain in detail in this email message, but we have you covered: Follow this link to download our detailed memorandum on the new regulations. Follow this link to download the new FMLA forms and poster. Or if you're really into reading lengthy goverment regulations (and who isn't, really?) you can download the new FMLA regulations here.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) issued a revised regulation earlier this week on employees’ meal breaks which will be of interest to many smaller employers.
The revised regulation, which is effective as of January 12, 2009, retains the basic requirement that employees normally be provided with a 30-minute, unpaid meal period in which they are relieved of all duties (for shifts longer than 6 hours). However, it adds additional options for employers who do not provide the full 30-minute meal period and/or relieve an employee completely from duty (such as when the employee remains on-call).
Under the new regulation, an employer is not required to provide an employee with a 30-minute meal period in which the employee is relieved of all duties if the employer can demonstrate that:
- failure to provide a meal period was caused by unforeseeable equipment failures, acts of nature or other exceptional and unanticipated circumstances that only rarely and temporarily preclude the provision of a meal period;
- industry practice or custom has established a paid meal period of less than 30 minutes (but no less than 20 minutes) during which employees are relieved of all duties; or
- providing a 30-minute, unpaid meal period where the employee is relieved of all duties would impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business (the regulations also provide guidance on what is an “undue hardship”).
An employer that does not provide meal periods under the “undue hardship” exception must comply with two additional requirements: (a) the employer must also provide the employee adequate periods in which to rest, consume a meal, and use the restroom without deduction from the employee’s pay; and (b) the employer must first provide to each employee a notice provided by BOLI regarding rest and meal periods in the language used by the employer to communicate with the employee. BOLI will make such notices available by March 16, 2009.
Want more information? Click here to download BOLI's press release explaining the new regulations. Or click here to download the full text of the new regulation, including the definition of undue hardship. Or, click here if you want BOLI's full run-down of the law on rest and meal breaks in general.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) split yesterday over whether to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking on the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The commissioners voted 2-2 on whether to approve a set of proposed rules that had been drafted by EEOC's Office of Legal Counsel. Under the EEOC's rules, a tie vote is the same as a "no," meaning the proposed rules will not be presented to the public for comment. (For those of you suspecting political motives, you could be right: the two Republican Commissioners voted in favor of releasing the rules, and the two Democrats voted no.)
What does this mean? The ADAAA will go into effect January 1, 2009 without any interpretive regulations to help us navigate the new law. The ADAAA requires the EEOC to create new regulations, but does not set any deadlines. When the EEOC does make new regulations, it will publish them and allow public comment for 60 days before the regulations may take effect. And if the Commissioners remain deadlocked, it make take an appointment from President-Elect Obama to break the tie.
For more information on the ADAAA, check out the Stoel Rives World of Employment's ADAAA Archives.