Maine employers need to be aware of a new law that affects their workers. As of January 28, 2008, family members of injured and or active duty soldiers may take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for that soldier and/or that soldier’s family.
The NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) of 2008 provides this leave by expanding the amount of leave allowed under FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). According to the NDAA of 2008, sons, daughters, parents and spouses may take unpaid FMLA to care for an injured soldier, who is active military or a member of the National Guard or Reserve on deployment. “Next of kin” are covered by the NDAA, too, which in some cases may include aunts, uncle or cousins.
In addition to caring for an injured soldier, the NDAA allows for family members to stand in for a soldier who is called to active duty. Under this provision, sons, daughters, parents and spouses may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid FMLA to care for whoever was under that soldier’s care, including ill family members and healthy children.
Details of this policy are still being finalized by the U. S. Department of Labor. Until the information is published, the Department of Labor asks employers to do their best to comply with the NDAA leave requests.
While this plan applies to the families of active military personnel, the expectation is that spouses of deployed National Guard and Reserve members will utilize it the most.
In contrast with the extended FMLA, traditional FMLA caps leave at 12 weeks. It allows employees to take this leave to care for an ill spouse, parent or child. Caring for healthy children, however, can only be charged to traditional FMLA leave upon childbirth, the adoption of a child, or when newly fostering a child. An example would be the case of a stay-at-home mother who develops a long-term illness. Under the traditional FMLA, her husband can take leave to care for her, but can not take FMLA to care for their healthy children.
In the beginning of 2008, the United States enacted the National Defense Authorization Act to expand the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).
The FMLA was passed in 1993 and has not incurred a major expansion until the passage of the NDAA 2008. A federal law, FMLA broke new ground in requiring employers to provide job-protected, unpaid leave for employees with serious health issues. To be covered by FMLA, a company must have 50 or more workers in a 75 mile radius, and employees must have worked for that company for a certain amount of time.
Under this ground-breaking federal law, employees were entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to tend to health issues. These health issues could be their own, or those of a parent, spouse or child. In addition to caring for an illness, FMLA leave could be used to care for a newborn child, a newly adopted child, or a newly fostered child under the age of 18.
Upon returning from leave, the worker was guaranteed to have a job. If the same job wasn’t available, then the company had to place the worker in a similar position with comparable salary, benefits and working conditions.
Prior to the enactment of the FMLA in 1993, a worker who developed a serious illness could be out of a job. Companies at that time determined how an employee could use leave for medical reasons on a case-by case basis. Individual company policy varied from business to business. In many situations, if a worker missed more than a couple of weeks because of major surgery or heart attack, the company simply fired him or her.
NDAA 2008 will expand the parameters of the existing FMLA, but the details are not yet know. The U. S. Department of Labor is finalizing the regulations and will publish the results.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced a grant of nearly $780,000 to assist workers who lost their jobs… just as the company involved was announcing high earnings and a $276 million plan to purchase a competitor. The federal grant will benefit workers who were laid off when a plant operated by Sensata Technologies in Standish, Maine closed.
According to sources at the Department of Labor, the grant totals $779,392. Of that amount, $454,998 will be released immediately. The grant will benefit about 125 workers who were displaced when the plant closed.
In separate news, Sensata Technologies recently announced high profits for the first quarter of 2007, and the planned $276 million acquisition of a competitor. The company reports cash reserves on hand of $89.8 million, even after the acquisition of SMaL Camera Technologies, Inc. and $18 million in capital spending.
“This $780,000 grant will help workers access employment services and training programs so they can transition to good paying jobs in growing industries,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Announcing the company’s higher earnings, Tom Wroe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sensata Technologies Inc. said, “We are executing on each of the five key elements of our stated strategy; product innovation, customer relationships, being a best cost producer, pursuing acquisitions, and recruiting and retaining top talent. We are expanding our core customer and product revenues and our acquisition strategy is expanding our current and future product capabilities.”
On January 1, Sensata Technologies announced the closure of its Standish facilities, effective June 1. The state of Maine immediately scheduled Rapid Response sessions, which were conducted during the months of March, April and May. The sessions were designed to provide the affected workers with information on the services available to assist them as they prepare to return to work.
Sensata Technologies, Inc. also plans to acquire a competitor, Airpax Holdings, Inc., in a $276 million purchase. Sensata Technologies Inc recently announced that it has reached a definitive agreement with Chicago Growth Partners and Airpax senior management to acquire the company. Airpax is a manufacturer of components and systems for power protection, sensing and control applications. The $276 million purchase, which is expected to be completed this month, “affirms Sensata’s position as a leading global supplier of sensors and controls across a broad array of markets and applications” according to company sources.
During the Rapid Response session, laid-off Sensata workers were advised that they may possibly qualify for assistance under the federal TAA program. TAA provides employees who have been downsized and face long-term unemployment due to plant closures with additional benefits. Under TAA, employees may be able to collect unemployment benefits for a longer period, while they learn a new skill. When an employee accepts a lower-paying job, TAA benefits may provide supplemental payments for up to 2 years. It is not yet clear if the workers in this case will qualify for TAA assistance.
This grant, awarded to the Maine Department of Labor, will provide this group of workers with a wide array of employment-related assistance to include assessment, case management, and career and occupational skills training.
Sensata Technologies is a leading designer and manufacturer of controls and sensors. The company produces Klixon devices, sensors, controls and protectors for industrial and OEM applications. According to Sensata, its sensors improve auto operation and make the car’s heating and cooling system more efficient. The company’s controls and protectors help prevent damage from heat and fire in refrigerators, cars, planes, and lighting.
The company currently has plants in Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea and Malaysia. The company has two plants in China, and one in the U.S. at Attleboro, Massachusetts.
According to the company’s most recent earnings report, revenue in the first quarter of 2007 was $328 million, an increase of 11.5% over the same quarter last year. Sensata Technologies earned $33.8 million more than over the same period last year.
Company profits were also higher than last year, at $84.8 million. This is $6.4 million higher than the same period last year, or 8.2% more. All of these figures reflect earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (known as EBITDA). The company also reported higher cash balances on hand, with $89.8 available, up from $84.8 the previous quarter.
The latest updates to the federal and Maine USERRA regulations specifically address an important concern of many service members: health care for themselves and their families. When it comes to health insurance coverage, workers heading off to active military duty need to continue their insurance for the first 30 days. These regulations are especially applicable to members of the Reserve and National Guard who are called to active duty. For the first 30 days, the insurance should be the same as the worker had before he or she left. Assuming the worker’s family was covered by an employer’s group health care plan, they should continue the coverage for at least 30 days. After 30 days, soldiers can elect to use military health care for both themselves and their families. Soldiers can keep their health insurance coverage through their employer for up to two years if they so desire.
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Services, also known as VETS, has released changes to the rules, so many employers will have questions about Maine USERRA. Among the changes that will impact Maine workers are updates to the 1994 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
Now is a great time for every employer to update their Maine USERRA poster. Additional protection is given by USERRA to disabled veterans. Reasonable job accommodations are required of the employers of disabled veterans. Moreover, if a soldier is injured, even if that injury happens during training, the soldier has two additional years to return to his or her job.
Changes to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, known as USERRA, now allow federal government employees to file claims with the Veteran’s Employment and Training Services, VETS, a US Department of Labor division.
Another change to the rules provides coverage under the USERRA for federal government employees, with a special appeal process.
Now that Mother’s Day is over and Father’s Day is rapidly approaching, it’s worthwhile to consider the Maine FMLA law. Employees never know when a personal event will cause them to miss time at work. Perhaps they get sick, or a child is adopted, or maybe a close family member falls ill. The Maine Family and Medical Leave Act, also known as FMLA, can help.
The Maine FMLA is very important, and a poster explaining how it works should be on display in every workplace throughout the state. On this poster, employees can find information about the program basics. Included on the poster is information about the benefits provided by this program and how employees can determine if they are eligible.
If an employer has 50 or more workers, then the company has to comply with regulations regarding FMLA. Public employees and school teachers are the exception to this requirement in as much as they are covered even if their employer has fewer than 50 workers.
The Maine FMLA law allows employees to take some time off while protecting their jobs. The way the law works is that once a year, employees can take off up to 12 weeks without pay and not lose their jobs. Restrictions apply, of course, but allowed situations include a serious illness experienced by either the employee or a close family member, the arrival of a child either through birth or adoption, and placement of a foster child.
When employees take leaves under the Maine FMLA, they need to make certain they understand all of the conditions. All written instructions need to be followed, and employees need to stay in touch with their employers.
Although some states don’t follow the federal FMLA program and instead have their own programs, Maine follows the federal program. The states that have their own programs have similar standards to the federal program.
Maine employee benefit has no legal provision for mental health coverage. Although there is a substantial number of employers who do provide mental health coverage as a part of group insurance, but there are many who do not. Even inpatient or outpatient treatment in a hospital may or may not be a part of your health plan.
But in case an employer does offer mental health coverage as a part of a group insurance plan, there are several laws governing it. One that merits special mention is Mental Health Parity Act or MHPA. The Mental Health Parity Act requires that any group health insurance plan that funds mental health treatment, cover it at the same level as other medical treatments, including surgery.
The MHPA has undergone several amendments since its enactment. It was passed in 1996 with a provision to expire on September 30, 2001. Numerous extensions followed, and in February 2007, it was extended up to December 31, 2007. Considering the history of amendments and extensions in MHPA, it would be safe to assume that this law will remain in effect for quite some time to come.
Before 1996, many healthcare plans had very small provisions for mental health coverage. For instance, a plan that provided $100,000 for surgery could have only a provision of only a thousand dollars for mental health. Such small amounts could barely cover counseling, let alone more thorough treatment. But thanks to MHPA, it would be illegal now to have such small provisions for mental health. The law requires that mental health treatments must receive parity with other types of treatment.
A large number of American citizens with insurance are covered by employee benefit plans. The federal government has a dedicated agency to enforce the laws regarding employee benefits and pension plans. It is known as the Employee Benefits Security Administration, or EBSA. More than 150 million workers are covered under EBSA plans. The current name reflects the reality that the agency now handles as many violations of law concerning health care as pensions.