FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE RIGHTS IN WISCONSIN MAY IMPROVE

Legislation was recently introduced in the United States House of Representatives that would allow more Wisconsinites to take unpaid leave to care for themselves or family members. The Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act would extend Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections to individuals employed by companies with more than twenty-five (25) employees. Current law applies only to companies with fifty (50) or more employees.

BACKGROUND OF FEDERAL AND WISCONSIN FMLA

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into legislation approximately 21 years ago, five years after Wisconsin passed similar legislation allowing employees to take time off from work to care for themselves, a new baby, or sick family member. Although there are significant differences between the federal and Wisconsin FMLA laws, they both extend legal protections only to employees who work for an employer having fifty (50) employees or more. The recently introduced legislation, known as H.R. 3999: Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act of 2014, affects only the federal FMLA and would extend legal protections to those individuals employed by companies with more than twenty-five (25) employees. Government estimates indicate the federal FMLA has been used over 100 million times by Americans to take up to twelve (12) weeks of unpaid leave without the risk of losing their jobs. The new legislation would expand these protections to an estimated forty percent (40%) more employees than under the current law.

IMPROVEMENTS INCLUDE PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT AND FAMILY WELLNESS LEAVE

In addition to lowering the number of employees necessary to extend FMLA coverage, the recently introduced legislation would increase the number of circumstances an employee could use unpaid leave. Instead of limiting the opportunities to use leave to care for a new baby, a sick family member or themselves, eligible employees would now be able to “participate in or attend an activity that is sponsored by a school or community organization and relates to a program of the school or organization that is attended by a son or daughter or a grandchild of the employee.” A covered employee could also use federal FMLA to “meet routine family medical care needs, including for medical and dental appointments of the employee or a son, daughter, spouse, or grandchild of the employee, or to attend to the care needs of elderly individuals who are related to the eligible employee, including visits to nursing home and group homes.” In short, the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act would provide up to 24 hours per year of unpaid Parental Involvement and Family Wellness leave, which will allow parents and grandparents to go to parent-teacher conferences or take their children, grandchildren or other family members to regular medical or dental appointments.

Unfortunately, these changes will not take effect until the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act is passed by both houses of Congress, leaving millions of Americans and Wisconsinites who are working for companies with fewer than fifty (50) employees without legal protections to care for themselves or loved ones. The information provided above presents general information on employee rights and is not intended to provide legal advice. If you believe an employer has violated your rights relating to FMLA or other rights, contact one of the employment attorneys at Hawks Quindel, S.C.

Colin Good

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