Family and Medical Leave

It is not uncommon for even conscientious and well-intentioned employers to misconstrue obligations under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA).  Violations of the FMLA or the RIPFMLA can result in injunctions, fines, and/or other penalties, so it is important that covered employers provide appropriate leave as required under the Acts.  Some of the highlights of the Acts are listed below; however, please refer to the full text of the Acts for the complete requirements.

Who’s covered?

  •            Employers:

The FMLA and the RIPFMLA both apply to employers with 50 or more employees, and the RIPFMLA also applies to the State of Rhode Island; cities, towns, and municipal agencies with 30 or more employees.

  •            Employees:

The FMLA and the RIPFMLA both apply to employees who have worked for an employer for at least twelve consecutive months.  Under the FMLA, the employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous twelve months (about 24 hours per week), but the RIPMLA only applies to full time employees working an average of 30 hours or more per week.

When do the FMLA and RIPFMLA apply?

Covered employees are entitled to leave under the FMLA and RIPFMLA in the following circumstances:

  •            Birth of the employee’s child;
  •            Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care;
  •            Serious illness or health condition of the employee or his/her family member.

Under the Acts, a serious illness or health condition includes a disabling physical or mental illness, injury, impairment, or condition involving inpatient care, or outpatient care requiring continuing treatment or supervision by a health care provider.  In addition, “family members” include the employee’s parents, spouse, children, mother-in-law, or father-in-law.

What leave is required?

Under the RIPFMLA, eligible employees are entitled to 13 consecutive workweeks of leave in any two calendar years.  Similarly, under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period.  Employers may permit employees to use such leave intermittently, rather than all at once.

Employee status and benefits

After returning from leave, the employee must be reinstated to the same position or to a position with equivalent seniority, status, benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.  In other words, in most circumstances, an employer may not demote or otherwise discipline an employee for taking family medical leave.  Employers must also continue to provide health benefits during an employee’s leave, so long as the employee continues to make required contributions to premiums.

Requirement of paid vs. unpaid leave

Typically, leave under the FMLA and RIPFMLA may consist of unpaid leave.  However, employers may require employees to substitute accrued sick, personal, or vacation leave for unpaid leave.  In addition, new Rhode Island legislation may require employers to provide paid temporary caregiver benefits to employees entitled to leave under the Acts.

Lastly, employers must post notices of the above rights and requirements in conspicuous places in the workplace.  (Forms are available through the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training and the federal Department of Labor.)

It’s important for both employers and employees to understand their respective rights and obligations under these Acts.  In addition, it may prove helpful for employers to spend time, energy, and resources composing employer-specific policies (using the Acts as floors); educating employees on policies; and planning, where possible, with employees to work towards orderly, consistent leave periods that are as least disruptive as possible to both the employee’s circumstance and the employer’s operations.

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