The United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently released new forms for employers to use when their employees are in need of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  These new forms can be viewed here.  So… what’s changed (besides the form expiration date), and why should your company use these forms? Read on to find out.

The FMLA requires covered employers (i.e., those with 50 or more employees) to provide eligible employees with family and medical leave under certain circumstances, including when leave is needed due to the employee’s or a child, spouse or parent’s serious health condition.  The FMLA also requires covered employers to provide certain notices and information to employees as part of the FMLA process.  To comply with these obligations, many employers take advantage of the DOL’s FMLA forms, such as the Notice of Rights and Responsibilities, the Designation Notice, and the Certification of Health Care Provider notices.

The DOL has updated all of these forms.  Frankly, however, they have not changed much.  The primary revision appears to be to the Health Care Provider Certification forms, which request specific information from the employee’s (or his or her family member’s) treating healthcare provider.  Those forms now contain language that is designed to protect employers from inadvertent disclosure of genetic information within the meaning of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.  (For more information on GINA, read our Employer Alert here.)

Should your company use these forms?  Certainly, employers are not required to use the DOL’s forms.  Keep in mind, however, that these forms are “blessed” by the DOL – meaning that DOL considers these forms to be compliant with the FMLA’s requirements.  For this reason, we recommend that all FMLA-covered employers have an up-to-date FMLA policy and, unless there is a strong reason to use your own forms, make use of the DOL’s forms.

As a final practical matter, FMLA and non-FMLA covered employers alike should have leave of absence and reasonable accommodation procedures in place.  Periodic review of your leave of absence and accommodation procedures and managerial training on the proper handling of those issues is key to minimizing your Company’s exposure under the FMLA and under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The old saying is trite, but true (and seems fitting for today’s topic):  an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.