Recent changes were made to FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) regulations that include rules to streamline the medical certification process.
FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for their own “serious medical condition”, or to care for a seriously ill family member (FMLA defines family member as spouse, parent or child). Before granting FMLA leave, the employer can require medical certification of the worker’s need for the leave. The employer can even require a second and third opinion, but payment for these opinions is the employer’s responsibility.
Currently, Utah employers can only request recertification under two conditions. If an employee takes more than 30 days of FMLA and remains absent, or has medical certification with a specific time limit and doesn’t return to work, the employer can request a recertification.
Under the new regulations, employers will be able to request recertification of a worker’s “serious medical condition” at least once every six months. In this context, however, “request” isn’t quite the correct term. If an employer “requests” recertification, the employee must comply. Otherwise, the employer is legally within its rights to deny the FMLA leave.
The new regulations permit employers to contact healthcare providers for clarification on the certification. The U. S Department of Labor provides an optional form for medical certification, the WH-380. The physician can specify the worker’s diagnoses on this form, but isn’t legally required to do so. The employer can only inquire about information on the certification form, though, and both parties must comply with HIPAA’s medical privacy regulations.
Included in the updated FMLA is a provision for employers to request a worker to provide a new certification every year for an ongoing condition. Consider Mary, who suffers from migraines and takes unscheduled FMLA on occasion. Her employer can request a new medical certification once a year, to update the requirements for her leave.
More Utah FMLA Changes
Several updates to FMLA regulations proposed by the U. S. Department Labor will become law on April 11, 2008. Employers nationwide will be affected, and until the finalized rules are published, are welcome to comment on those changes.
Two major changes to the FMLA regulations include updates to the process for “fitness-for-duty” certification.
Currently, employers can require workers on FMLA leave to provide certification from their healthcare professional that they are able to return to work. For example, employees who take leave for a “serious health condition” will probably be asked to provide a “fitness-for-duty” certification. An employee, however, returning from FMLA after adopting a child may not be asked for certification.
The new FMLA regulations will allow employers to have the “fitness-for-duty” certification address the worker’s job functions. For instance Bob works in the warehouse and regularly lifts boxes weighing more than 50 pounds. If he injures his back and takes FMLA leave, his employer can request a fitness certification to ensure he is physically able lift heavy objects.
The second change to the “fitness-for-duty” process pertains to workers who take FMLA leave on an intermittent basis. The new regulation will permit employers to request a fitness certification each time the worker takes time off. For example, Burt drives a delivery truck and suffers from migraine headaches. Because these headaches blur his vision, his company can require a “fitness-for-duty” certification each time he takes leave. Blurred vision for a driver is a safety concern. In addition, this change may reduce or even eliminate abuse of FMLA leave by employees.
If the employee’s condition does not involve a safety concern, the company can not require a “fitness-for-duty” certification. An example is Barbara who is suffering from severe morning sickness during her pregnancy. She takes intermittent FMLA to deal with this condition, which has been certified by her physician. Her condition is not a valid safety concern, so her employer can not require a “fitness-for-duty” certification.
Utah worker safety is threatened by two major problems in winter weather. They are cold stress and trench foot.
Cold stress, simply described, is the body’s inability to stay warm. Trench foot, which many contemporary workers have probably never heard of, gets its name from World War I, when the problem was first noted. Soldiers in that war spent a great deal of time in trenches, and their feet would be soaking in cold water during much of that time. The situation resulted in burning, blisters, and itching of the feet. While it resembles frostbite, trench foot is not quite as severe.
An alert was issued by the Utah office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, warning about the dangers of both trench foot and cold stress in the workplace.
Some of the problems related to the dangers of cold can be traced to the wind chill factor. As most people know, wind chill is a phrase that describes the way wind speed affects temperature. As the speed of the wind increases, the lower the wind chill temperature will be. Human skin does not read thermometers. It reacts to the wind chill factor, regardless of what the thermometer’s temperature may say.
There are steps that can be taken to avoid cold stress. One of the most important is to dress warmly, in layers, with inner layers that fit closely. It is best to cover up the extremities, particularly the head, as well. Staying dry is a significant step, because coming in contact with cold water makes it extremely difficult for the body to hold its normal temperature. Employees should also take breaks often, in a warm area.
If mild cold stress occurs, it is relatively easy to treat. Move the sufferers to a warm place and keep them warm and active. Damp clothes should be removed. Give them warm liquids. Caffeine drinks such as coffee, tea, or cocoa, however, should be avoided because they actually slow the warming process.
If the cold stress is severe, call an ambulance promptly. Medical professionals will know what care to provide.
Utah Cold OSHA
Cold temperatures can pose dangers to outdoor workers, and OSHA has offered some common-sense steps involving appropriate clothing and safe work practices. Employers should make plans for the cold weather.
Some of the dangers of cold at outdoor worksites include frostbite, trench foot, and hypothermia.
It is wise for employers to supply cold-weather clothing to the employees who work outdoors or in freezers for long periods. Fabric is important, because cotton loses its insulating powers when it is wet. Wool, on the other hand, will insulate even when soaked.
Three layers of clothing are recommended by OSHA. Starting with the inner layer closest to the body, this should be cotton or synthetics for ventilation. The middle layer should be down or wool to offer insulation and absorb sweat even when it is wet. Finally, the outer layer should be nylon to act as a windbreaker.
Loose clothing provides better ventilation and insulation. Dry clothes should be available in a warm place in the event work clothing becomes soaked through. Insulated boots or footwear should be worn. In wet conditions, use waterproof boots. A hat is essential because as much as 40 degrees of body heat can be lost when the head is not covered.
Safe practices include training employees and supervisors to recognize the signs of cold stress. Employees should work in a “buddy system” and watch each other for those signs, which include irrational behavior, disorientation, and confusion. Urge workers to drink lots of liquids, but alcohol and caffeine should be avoided. Both limit the body’s ability to fight cold, as does smoking. Some prescription drugs have the same effect.
Schedule work for the warmest part of the day, and include more work breaks where possible. The breaks should be in a heated shelter or vehicle. Employees should eat warm food that is high in calories. Pasta is a good choice. Use radiant heaters to keep work areas worm. A temporary shelter will cut drafts and wind, lowering wind chill dangers. Use insulation to cover metal handles on equipment, particularly if temperatures go below 30 degrees.
A Utah worker safety alert sent out recently may take many Utah employers by surprise. Although most employers have planned in advance to handle natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes, they may have overlooked another threat. As the alert explains, an influenza pandemic, if one were to occur, could have a devastating impact on businesses.
OSHA feels employers should have a disaster plan in place in the event of a worldwide flu outbreak. Although many people don’t consider the flu a threat, a pandemic would have global consequences. The worldwide economy would be disrupted, and trade, travel, tourism, even consumer buying and the food supply could be affected. After that, the investment and financial markets could suffer.
In case of an influenza pandemic, employers can play a role in protecting workers’ health and safety. When a new strain of influenza emerges, it can cause a pandemic, which is a worldwide outbreak. No one has immunity to the new strain, so it can spread quickly.
At the moment, there are no new strains of the flu. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, still feels that all employers need to be prepared in case one does happen. OSHA maintains, “As with any catastrophe, having a contingency plan is essential.”
History proves that influenza pandemics can be devastating. Between 50 and 100 million died in just 18 months from the Spanish Flu in 1918. To put this number in perspective, consider that 9 million soldiers died in World War I.
If a pandemic did occur, employers would experience large numbers of absent employees. This worker shortage may impact supply chains, which means products might not be delivered in a timely manner. Some products, such as tissues and hand sanitizers, may be difficult to find. Healthcare facilities may be overcrowded, while other businesses may find themselves nearly empty, such as malls and movie theaters.
Every employer is required by law to put a Utah OSHA 300 form on display from February 1 to April 30, 2007. This form lists all the accidents and work-related injuries that might have occurred in 2006. If you are an employer, you sure don’t want the number of accidents to be too high. Employees also have a stake in reducing the number of workplace accidents.
If you haven’t really studied the Utah OSHA 300 form at your workplace, I’d urge you to. Some accidents are easily avoided, once employers and employees are aware of the hazards.
Any state can opt out of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by forming its own organization to ensure the health and safety of employees. To do so, a developmental plan has to be submitted for the federal OSHA’s approval. This plan assures the federal government that the state would have a fully functional safety and health administration.
OSHA will also check out the plan for the new agency, including appropriate legislation; regulations and procedures for standards setting, enforcement, appeal of citations and penalties; and an adequate number of qualified enforcement personnel. Every state agency must have safety standards are as strict, or more strict than the federal standards. Most of the states follow the federal standards closely, sometimes improving on them. California is one such case in point. In these states, it is the state government that conducts safety inspections and enforces safety laws.
A total of 22 states have their own health and safety administrations. Some of these states are Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, New York Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
Three states including New York and Connecticut have state agencies that regulate occupational safety for employees of state and local governments only. The Virgin Islands also has such a plan. In these areas, most businesses and non-profit organizations are covered by federal OSHA standards.