The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) guarantees workers unpaid job-protected leave in the event of their own or an immediate family member’s serious illness, or to care for a new child.
The U.S. Department of Labor published proposed changes to the FMLA rules on February 11, 2008.
There are three major changes. One involves employee notice obligations, another covers employer notice obligations, and the third expands FMLA leave to 26 weeks for some military families.
The military leave expansion, under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2008, went into effect January 28, 2008. The rest are due to take effect on April 11, 2008.
Assistant Secretary for the Employment Standards Administration Victoria A. Lipnic said the set of proposal “preserves workers’ family and medical leave rights while improving the administration of FMLA by fostering better communication in the workplace.” She also noted the expansion in military leave “to families of America’s soldiers who are suffering serious illness or injury.”
Under the new rules, North Carolina employees would have to follow company policy for notifying an employer then they plan to use FMLA leave. Employers have noted that under the old regulations workers had two businesses days after an absence in which to notify the company that the absence was in fact FMLA leave. The lack of notice was a serious disruption in operations.
Employees are also protected. The regulations help assure that workers will not be denied FMLA under a technicality. If an employee’s medical certification is lacking something or is incorrect, employers must notify the worker in writing. The employee then has seven days to correct the problem. All employer notice requirements are now consolidated, and the new rules are designed to assure that employees know their rights to FMLA leave. Employers also have five business days rather than two to send designation and eligibility notices to employees.
Some technical changes are also included in the proposal. They reflect Supreme Court and lower court decisions since the FMLA was passed.
More North Carolina FMLA Changes
Employers and others have until April 11, 2008 to comment on new proposed changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules, first published by the U.S. Labor Department on Feb. 11, 2008. The rules will go into effect around the April 11 date.
Post comments at http://www.regulations.gov under the keywords “Family and Medical Leave Act,” including the quotes as shown. All comments will be published in their complete form, including whatever contact information is provided.
The changes, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, should result in better communication with three key groups, employers, workers, and healthcare providers.
The FMLA rules are enforced by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.
One of the tentative changes strengthens a Labor Department stand that employees may settle FMLA claims out of court, but must waive their FMLA rights retroactively in order to do so. FMLA rights may still not be waived in advance, ruling out the possibility of a union contract denying entitlement to FMLA leave.
Another addresses the issue of “light duty,” stressing that it may not be counted toward an employee’s FMLA leave time. A worker may receive “light duty” worker for 10 weeks, for example, and still be entitled to the full 12 weeks or more of FMLA time. “Light duty” would not affect an employee’s FMLA reinstatement guarantee. In short, if a warehouse worker were given a “light duty” assignment in the parts department because of a back injury, she or he would be reinstated to the warehouse job after FMLA leave. The position reverses court case trends. Two lower courts have ruled that “light duty” time may be part of FMLA leave.
A third proposal takes into account a U.S. Supreme Court case known as Ragsdale vs. Wolverine World Wide, Inc. The Court ruled that under some conditions employees who have taken more than 12 weeks of paid leave may not have the right to the 12 weeks or more of unpaid FMLA leave. An employee was denied FMLA leave after 30 weeks of unpaid leave. The Labor Department took the matter to court.
Asbestos is an ancient material with modern hazards. Used by the Egyptians and the 9th-century Emperor Charlemagne, asbestos was prevalent as a fire-retardant through most of the 20th century.
Today, it lingers in the brakes and clutches of older-model cars and trucks, continuing to pose a danger to auto mechanics and the people who work around them.
A North Carolina Worker Safety advisory distributed recently points out the specific hazards of the presence of asbestos in the auto repair industry. The material was used in brakes and clutches to prevent fires.
One problem is that a mechanic cannot tell in advance whether or not a brake shoe or clutch contains asbestos. The only way to know is to open it. Handling it unsafely can put not only the mechanic at risk, but also the other workers in the auto repair shop.
Most new cars, according to OSHA, don’t contain asbestos. But because the risks continue to show up in older vehicles being worked on in repair shops, employers of those shops are required by regulations to train workers in safe handling of asbestos. Asbestos should be controlled by wetting it, which limits the numbers of airborne particles. The material should be stored in labeled and firmly sealed bags.
Asbestos breaks up readily into particles invisible to the naked eye. The particles become airborne and are inhaled. The result is a danger of several kinds of cancer as well as asbestosis.
One of the cancers is a rare form called mesothelioma, named for the mesothelium, or protective lining of internal organs. It is there that the cancer develops. Most of the sufferers of mesothelioma have had exposure to asbestos.
The chronic inflammatory disease asbestosis is another risk. Workers who are exposed over a long term to heavy amounts, such as workers in the mining industry, are often sufferers of this disease. Asbestosis results in shortness of breath and an increased risk of lung cancer. It is regarded as an occupational lung disease.
Some 10,000 people die of asbestos-related ailments yearly.
According to a recently introduced public safety program, the way to stay alive is to stay out – of mines, that is.
Abandoned and active mines can be a danger to North Carolina worker safety as well as children and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Outdoor workers in many fields are hurt after falling into mine shafts. Children trespass on or wander onto old, abandoned mining property. More than 200 people have died in accidents on mine property since 1999 alone.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, known as MSHA, developed the program. Richard Stickler, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, says there are about a half-million abandoned mines and another 14,000 active ones in the U.S. Many of them contain hidden hazards and, for those not trained to work in mines, “the outcome can be deadly.” That’s why, he says, workers, bikers, hikers, climbers, and swimmers are being urged to “Stay Out – Stay Alive.”
The dangers are varied and deadly. Tunnels may collapse. They may contain hazardous gases or poisonous snakes and insects. Shafts hidden by a cover of rotting or decayed boards may give way under a person’s weight, sending them falling hundreds of feet into the ground. Explosives are a common hazard. Such explosives, often blasting caps, may be set off by a light touch or disturbance.
Since 1999, tragic mine-related accidents have claimed the lives of more than 200 people. Some of them have been children and recreational users who trespass on mine land. Sometimes inattentive outdoor workers on another assignment may fall into a mine shaft or suffer other injuries on mine property.
The “Stay Out – Stay Alive” program involves trips by mine safety and health experts to schools, scout organizations, and other groups. The visits are designed to talk to children about all of the dangers that can face them if they trespass or accidentally wander onto abandoned mining property. It also involves public service announcements warning against accidental trespassing.
Many employers and employees alike may be unaware of a workplace hazard described in a recent North Carolina OSHA Alert. This warning explains that the number of workplace accidents and fatalities caused by All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) is rising. A total of 113 people died using ATVs at work during a span of 9 years. A total of 1625 people were injured in some way using an ATV at work during that same time span.
Although many people think of all-terrain vehicles as recreational vehicles, they are being used more frequently in the workplace. Law enforcement agencies, along with construction and agriculture companies, are some of the industries using ATVS in the workplace.
How do these accidents happen? ATV accidents have several causes. For one thing, ATVs can be difficult to handle. They don’t respond like a car or a bicycle, and so accidents occur. For instance, on an incline or when a driver takes a corner sharply, the ATV can flip over, resulting in injuries to the driver. Putting too much weight on the ATV also can cause an accident. If the driver overloads the vehicle, it can become even more unstable. Finally, if more than one passenger tries to ride on the ATV, the driver can lose control.
What can employers do to protect workers from ATV accidents? Employers should start by making sure all employees who operate ATVs wear helmets. Also, these employees should receive training specifically on the operation of ATVs. Although the employees may be licensed drivers, driving an ATV is different. For this reason, employees should be trained. Finally, employees should never exceed the manufacturer’s guidelines for load capacity, and passengers should never be allowed on the ATV.
Although most ATV accidents still occur during recreational use, more accidents in the workplace are occurring. Employers should strive to prevent these accidents by making sure employees follow the safety rules.