The U.S. Department of Labor has introduced important changes to the FMLA regulations that affect employers in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
The medical certification process for employees taking FMLA leave (Family and Medical Leave Act) has been streamlined. Under FMLA, a worker can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for a “serious health condition” of their own, or to care for a family member (son, daughter, parent or spouse) who’s ill.
Pennsylvania employers are legally allowed to require certification of a “serious health condition” from the employee’s healthcare provider.
Depending on the situation, the employer can request a second or third opinion, but at the employer’s expense. Plus, the employer can contact the healthcare provider for clarification of the medical certification form. Both employer and healthcare provider must adhere to the HIPAA privacy regulations.
Under the new FMLA regulations, the employer can request a recertification of an employee’s ongoing medical condition at least once every six months. Once the employer “requests” the recertification, the worker must comply or face the possibility of being legally denied FMLA leave.
The new regulations prevent companies from asking healthcare personnel from any information that is not on the U. S. Department of Labors’ WH-380 form. Though the form has recently been updated, it is still optional. Healthcare providers may use this form to specify the worker’s “serious health condition”, but are not legally required to do so.
The changes in FMLA include a formal provision for companies to request a yearly certification for employee’s with ongoing conditions. For example, if Mary suffers from migraine headaches and periodically needs to take unscheduled FMLA leave, an employer can request the condition be recertified each year.
This change provides more specific classifications for a worker’s condition. Previously a company could request recertification in only two scenarios: when a worker takes over a month of FMLA leave and is still absent, and when the physician puts a time limit on the worker’s condition. Plus, confusion often resulted from a physician classifying a worker’s condition as “lifetime” or unknown.
The updated FMLA regulations require more specific information, plus allow companies to more easily request recertification.
More Pennsylvania FMLA Changes
Recently, the U. S. Department of Labor proposed several updates to the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) regulations.
The changes will go into effect on April 11, 2008. Until then, all interested parties are welcome to the comment on the changes. Once the regulations are published in the National Register, they become law.
Included among the FMLA changes are policies regarding “fitness-for-duty” certifications.
Under the current regulations, employers can require workers on FMLA leave to provide medical certification that they are able to return to work. This policy must be applied evenly to employees in similar situations. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees based on sex, color, religion, country of origin or gender. Additional federal laws protect workers from discrimination due to pregnancy, disabilities and age (over 40).
The proposed changes to the FMLA will affect the “fitness-for-duty” rules in two ways. The first update allows employers to request the fitness certification to address the employee’s specific job functions. Consider John who works in the warehouse and lifts heavy equipment. Before he returns from FMLA, the company can require him to provide certification that he is physically able to lift heavy objects.
The second change in the rules for “fitness-for-duty” pertains to employees who take FMLA leave intermittently. Under the new regulation, the company can require fitness certification each time the employee takes FMLA leave. For instance, Casey drives a truck and is prone to migraine headaches. His employer can legally ask for fitness certification each time Casey takes leave, because migraines can affect a person’s vision. A truck driver with troubled vision is a safety hazard. This change may also help to reduce abuse of FMLA leave, too.
If safety isn’t a concern, however, the employer cannot legally require a “fitness-for-duty” certification. If Amanda is pregnant and takes intermittent FMLA leave to deal with morning sickness (which has been certified by her physician), the company can not demand a fitness certification each time she takes time off. Her condition isn’t a safety-related issue.
Many people may have questions about how the new mine safety campaign will impact Pennsylvania worker safety.
What is the new safety campaign?
The Mine Safety and Health Administration, part of the US Department of Labor, has started the campaign in an effort to inform the public of the potential dangers that can be encountered on working and abandoned mine property. The campaign is called “Stay Out — Stay Alive” to remind recreational enthusiasts and workers that they should stay away from mine properties.
Have a lot of people been injured on mine properties?
Since 1999, over 200 people have died as a result of accidents on mine properties. Children and outdoor enthusiasts have been among those who died. In addition, workers from industries other than mining also have been injured and died. When children trespass onto mine property to play or workers wander onto the property, they can encounter unexpected dangers.
What kind of dangers do mines pose?
In the case of an underground mine, explorers or workers may not notice a shaft if it is hidden. These shafts often drop several hundred feet. In addition, sometimes debris covers the shafts so untrained workers or explorers may not see them. Also, mine tunnels can collapse, or they may be filled with poisonous gases.
What does the Mine Safety and Health Administration hope the campaign accomplishes?
According to the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, Richard E. Stickler,
“There are about 500,000 abandoned mines and another 14,000 active operations throughout the United States. Many of them contain hidden hazards and, for those not trained to work in mines, the outcome can be deadly. That’s why we urge workers, hikers, bikers, rock hounds and swimmers to ‘Stay Out — Stay Alive.’”
What will the “Stay Out — Stay Alive” campaign do?
Speakers will address organizations, including scouting groups and schools, to warn of the dangers young people can encounter on mine property. In addition, the campaign will use public service announcements to broadcast the message.
Many employees have questions about a Pennsylvania Worker Safety Alert issued recently that concerns accidents involving All-Terrain Vehicles. As you may already know, ATVs are increasingly being used in industry.
Are All-Terrain Vehicles involved in many workplace accidents? Accidents involving All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) have risen steadily in the workplace since 1992. Accidents in the workplace involving ATVs resulted in 113 deaths in only 9 years. In fact, all of the ATVs accidents during that time span total 1625, so it’s important employers realize the risks and take precautions to prevent accidents. ATV accidents in the workplace are on the rise and may soon equal the number of accidents that happen during recreational use.
The reason ATVs have been involved in so many accidents is because they handle differently than a car. Although they look cute, ATVs actually can be difficult to handle under some circumstances. When workers drive ATVs up steep inclines or take corners too sharply, the ATVs can flip, possibly injuring the driver.
Another reason drivers encounter problems when operating ATVs is that they overload the vehicle or try to carry passengers. ATVs have limits as to how much cargo they can carry. When this limit is exceeded, the vehicle can become unstable. Moreover, ATVs are designed to be driven by a single person, and passengers should not be allowed on the vehicle.
To prevent or reduce ATV accidents in the workplace, employers should start by making certain workers always wear helmets. Next, the workers who will be driving ATVs should receive training on the proper way to drive and handle these vehicles. Finally, the workers should follow the weight guidelines established by the manufacturer. Workers also should understand that passengers should never be allowed on the vehicle.
Employers can take steps to reduce or prevent ATV accidents in the workplace. The first step should be to have all ATV drivers wear helmets. In addition, these drivers should be trained on the proper use of these all-terrain vehicles. Only the driver should be allowed on the vehicles. Finally, the weight limitations calculated by the manufacturer should be followed to help ensure worker safety.
A recent Pennsylvania Worker Safety standards report highlights the dangers of slips, trips and falls. Whereas motor vehicles account for the highest rate of accidental fatalities, slips trips and falls are second, accounting for 15% of all accidents.
A safety awareness program is one way of ensuring that employees do not suffer from slips trips and falls. This should involve making each worker aware of hazards that can cause them, how to avoid them, and the reporting of such hazards. Employers should also make sure that a current Slips Trips Falls poster is displayed in an easily seen place to remind workers to clean up every spillage in a timely manner.
All walking and work surfaces should benefit from a good housekeeping program. All areas of employment should be checked for hazards, as well as storerooms, passageways and service rooms.
Hazards can include nails sticking out from surfaces or floors, loose boards, splinters and holes. In addition, passageways and aisles should be kept free from obstacles and clutter. Vehicle traffic should be kept to a minimum in these areas, and if machinery is being used, aisle should be wide enough to ensure that no damage occurs to materials and machinery, or injuries due to slips trips or falls occurs to employees.
Passages should be wide enough for two people to pass through. Many slips, trips and fall injuries occur when workers need to leave a building in a hurry.
All places of permanent employment are subject to the OSHA standards, apart from those where domestic, agricultural work or mining are the only types of work carried out within a work area.
In the case of a wet work processing area, drains should be adequate for the purpose and kept clear. Floors should be covered with mats, or grates or raised flooring should be provided to avoid slips trips and falls.
Employees all around the state have noticed new posters going up in the workplace recently. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides posters to all employers that must be prominently posted in areas all employees frequent. These posters are meant to be reminders to employers and workers alike of the necessity of maintaining a workplace that is as safe as possible.
The Pennsylvania OSHA 300 form has recently been issued for 2007 and employers are required to have it posted continuously from February 1 to April 30, 2007. The OSHA 300A form is a log designed to emphasize the importance of preventing future accidents and illnesses in the workplace.
With this effort in mind, the OSHA 300 is a review log citing all safety problems that occurred on the job during 2006. OSHA requires all employers to share this information with their staff as a means of communication. Displaying the poster according to OSHA guidelines is considered such a critical issue that OSHA can fine an employer for not displaying it properly.
OSHA provides other posters and bulletins that are required to be posted at all times, too. One of these is the “OSHA – It’s the Law” poster. This poster describes the role OSHA plays on the job front.
In addition to safeguarding the safety and health of America’s workforce by setting and enforcing safety and sanitation standards, OSHA is also chartered with the mission of providing training, outreach, and education in matters of safety in the workplace. Another OSHA responsibility is to establish partnerships between employees and employers so safety issues can be identified and discussed freely.
Most states utilize OSHA as their primary source of on-the-job safety information and materials but 24 states have established similar agencies within their own jurisdictions. These state agencies are all sanctioned by OSHA and serve similar purposes.