Employer Extending “Medical Leaves of Absence” Beyond 12 Weeks Creates an FMLA Trap for Unwary Employees

An opinion letter issued last week by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) makes clear that neither employers nor employees can decline to designate Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)-qualifying leave as such. DOL also made clear in its letter that while employers are free to adopt leaves policies more generous than the FMLA, they cannot extend the FMLA's protections beyond 12 weeks (or 26 weeks for military caregiver leave). The effect of these interpretations can create a trap for the unwary employee.  When an employer determines an employee needs leave because of an FMLA-qualifying reason, that leave must count toward his or her FMLA allotment, even if the employee requests otherwise. This means that employees cannot, for example, opt to take employer-provided sick or vacation time first; FMLA leave would have to run concurrently. And even if the employer chooses to grant more leave than the 12 weeks required by law, the employer cannot extend the law’s job…

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