An important new proposed change to the FMLA rules would modify the statute regarding what is called substitution of paid leave for employers in South Carolina.
This and a series of other proposed revisions will become effective after April 11, 2008. Employers are invited to comment until then. Click this link to do so, entering the keywords “Family and Medical Leave Act,” being sure to include the quotes. An employer’s contact information will be visible for public viewing.
A series of changes for employers are proposed in the new FMLA regulations, which were first announced by the U.S. Labor Department on February 11, 2008.
Another proposed change sounds less significant, but has been an issue with employers for some time. The revision would allow employers to count FMLA leave as part of an employee’s absentee record when deciding on “perfect attendance” awards. In the old regulations, FMLA leave could not be considered a work absence. However, both employers and coworkers objected that it was unfair when employees would get the awards and sometimes bonuses for perfect attendance even though those employees took the full 12 weeks of allotted FMLA leave.
Substitution of paid leave refers to a provision of the FMLA that says employers may require employees to use paid accrued sick time concurrently with their FMLA leave, and that employees may do so if they wish. The changes would broaden the rules.
Under the new proposed regulations, employers may require workers to use all of their accrued paid time off, including sick time, vacation time, and personal leave, as part of FMLA leave. Employees are permitted to do so also if they wish, and may use paid time off (PTO).
Using an example to clarify this, if employee Ron has accumulated 2 weeks of sick time, 5 weeks of vacation time, and 3 weeks of personal leave, he has a total of 10 weeks of paid time off coming. The old regulations say Ron could only use the 2 weeks of sick time as part of FMLA. The proposed changes would allow him to take the entire 10 weeks as part of FMLA.
More South Carolina FMLA Changes
The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing a series of changes to the FMLA rules that will go into effect April 11, 2008, the day they are published as final. Until that date, there will be a period of public comment.
Once the regulations are published they carry the force of law, and all employers must abide by them.
“It’s time to update these regulations,” said Victoria Lipnic of the Labor Department, “to reflect court decisions, clear up ambiguities, and address issues that weren’t contemplated when the regulations were first issued in 1995.”
Some of the proposed revisions are:
- Changes to the “fitness for duty” certification to return to the job
- Changes to the medical certification procedure
- Light duty will not count as FMLA leave
- An employee’s right to settle an FMLA case out of court
- The “Ragdsdale decision” on penalties by employers
- How often an employee on FMLA must visit a healthcare professional
- Allowing employers to withhold “Perfect Attendance Awards” to workers who have taken FMLA leave
- Refinement of the definition of “serious health condition”
- Allowing the substitution of paid leave under certain circumstances
There are several proposed regulation changes that touch on the idea of an employee’s “serious health condition” and medically certifying the condition.
FMLA allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually if the worker or a member of the immediate family has a “serious medical condition.” The Labor Department allows employers to demand that the “serious medical condition” be certified by a healthcare professional. Sometimes employers may also require a second or third opinion, provided the employer pays for them.
The original 6 definitions of “serious medical condition” would be kept in the new regulations. There is guidance of 2 terms, however. One definition includes 3 days of consecutive incapacity and “two visits to a healthcare provider. But under the current rules “two visits” remains undefined, and could be 2 visits in a month or a year. The new rules would make it 2 visits within 30 days of incapacity.
Employers may be confused as to the impact a recent ruling has on South Carolina employee benefit plans. This ruling was issued by the US Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) and impacts companies who have group health insurance plans that provide benefits for mental health treatments.
What is the significance of this ruling?
The ruling extends the expiration date on the Mental Health Parity Act, also known as MHPA. This act has been a law since 1996. Originally, it was to expire on September 30, 2001, but it has been extended 5 times. The new expiration date is December, 31, 2007.
What impact does the Mental Health Parity Act have?
The Mental Health Parity Act requires that group health insurance plans have the same benefit caps for mental heath treatments that they have for surgery and other medical treatments. Before this act, insurance companies could legally have a lifetime benefit maximum for mental health treatments of $15,000 while they had a lifetime benefit maximum for surgery and other health treatments of $250,000.
Is the yearly benefit maximum affected as well?
Yes. The Mental Health Parity Act requires that both the lifetime benefit maximum and the yearly benefit maximum be the same for both health treatments and mental health treatments.
What mental heath treatments are included?
The mental health treatments covered can include visits to psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed therapists. In addition, rehab stints for alcohol or drug dependency can be covered. Stays in mental hospitals for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and depression may also be covered.
Do companies that currently do not cover mental heath treatments have to provide this coverage?
No. This law does not impact companies that currently have group health insurance plans that do not cover mental health treatments. The law only applies to group health insurance plans that do cover mental health treatments.
The protection due under the South Carolina FMLA demands that employees observe some requirements. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in certain circumstances.
The first of these requirements is that if possible, the employer must notify the employee in writing about the status of the leave. The notice should also include instructions the employee must follow. If the employee must stay in communication with the office, the employer must specify how and when he or she has to do it. Employees who remain on good terms with the employer and comply with the instructions will have peace of mind.
Another requirement is to sign a written agreement about continued medical coverage. If employees have medical insurance that is paid by a deduction in earnings, when they go on leave, they need to make a provision to continue coverage. Employers may choose to continue with the payments and allow the employees to repay them when they return to work. Other employers will require that employees pay for insurance each month.
All of us are exposed to emergencies and stressful moments. With Mother’s Day and Father’s this time of year, it’s a great time to take another look at what the South Carolina FMLA law says. This act is very important for all of us because it protects our position in our company in the case of a difficult situation.
One way to spread information about the South Carolina FMLA is displaying a poster in every jobsite. The FMLA applies to companies with 50 or more employees. It also applies to public employees and teachers regardless of organization size. The FMLA poster must contain the fundamentals of the law, such as eligibility and advantages of the act.
The FMLA is a federal law. Some states have decided to take on their own FMLA rules that in general are like the federal standards. In the case of South Carolina, the state has chosen to adhere to the federal program.
A ruling with an impact on 150 million employees in the U.S. has extended the Mental Health Parity Act.
The act was extended to the last day of 2007 through a law signed by the President that will continue to guarantee equal health insurance coverage for mental health as for physical health treatment.
South Carolina employee benefit plans will be affected by the extension. Thanks to the Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA, it is illegal for group health insurance plans covering workers to put ceilings on coverage for mental health treatments at levels lower than those for medical and surgical treatments.
Mental health treatments covered are stays in psychiatric centers (mental hospitals) or the mental health sections of medical hospitals for treatments of illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or schizophrenia. It also includes visits to mental health professionals such as psychologists, licensed therapists, or psychiatrists. Stays in “rehab” for drug and alcohol abuse are covered.
When the law was first passed in 1996, a “sunset clause” was written in, requiring that it expire on September 31, 2001. Five amendments since that time have extended the date of expiration.
Before the enactment of MHPA, limits on mental health plan coverage might much lower than corresponding limits on surgical or medical treatment coverage. Any such disparity is illegal under MHPA. In short, group health plans must pay for mental health coverage to the same degree they cover medical care.
Because 150 million U.S. employees are covered by group health plans, the MHPA – and its recent extension – have a broad impact on the workforce.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) enforces the laws regulating group health plans. It has gone through a metamorphosis since its creation in 1974. At that time its mission was to enforce the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. Since then it has undergone several name changes, until its present title reflected its broader mandate and its upgrade to sub-cabinet level.
New employers in the state of South Carolina, you’re up to bat here at the best blog in the human resource world. Why should we talk about you, you ask? Well, for starters, it’s because there are certain things you ought to be doing to participate in the state unemployment insurance system, and if you’re not doing those things, I am here to give you a friendly reminder to start.
One such thing is to report to the South Carolina unemployment insurance system. No matter how many employees you have, in South Carolina, all employers have to file what is called a Commission Form UCE 151, or an Employer Status Report. The whole point of these Employer Status Reports is that it allows the Unemployment Insurance Commission in South Carolina to determine if you should be paying unemployment insurance taxes or not.
Even if you are currently not liable to pay these unemployment insurance benefits because of your employer status from years ago, you should file one of these Employer Status Reports to see what your status is today. You may now be liable to pay unemployment insurance taxes.
You will have to file something, too, if you recently acquired or bought someone else’s business. In this case, you have to get in touch with the South Carolina Unemployment Insurance Commission within 30 days of the end of the quarter when you bought or acquired that other business.
Another thing that you South Carolina employers should know about: the unemployment insurance benefits poster. Be sure to hang one up in every one of your facilities. Not only is it in the state labor laws that you hang up an unemployment insurance poster. It makes good sense to educate your employees about how they earn unemployment insurance benefits in the event that they lose their job for no wrongdoing of their own.