Recent Changes to the ADA and FMLA

goodwinprocter_logoGoodwin Procter presented a webinar on recent changes to the Americans with Disability Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Rob Hale moderating the presentation.

Heidi Goldstein Shepherd led off with a background on the ADA. The key concept for employers is that it is up to the employee to request a “reasonable accommodation” by the employer. New amendments to the ADA went into effect on January 1.

The new term is “substantially limited” which is supposed to be defined by the EEOC. Unfortunately, the EEOC has not promulgated this definition.

The question of disability is still considered on a case-by-case basis. Employer needs to determine if the accommodation requested is reasonable. Employer is not required to lower quantitative or qualitative standards as a “reasonable accommodation.” Conduct standards can be enforced if  “job related and consistent with business necessity” and applied consistently.

Steve Feldstein looked closer at the EEOC enforcement guidance. An employee who first requests the accommodation during a discipline process still remains subject to the discipline. If you go to fire a person and person first claims a disability, it is too late for the employee.

An employer should not raise the possibility of disability in discussing a performance problem. Leave it up to the employee.

California has a different standard than the federal law for disabilities. It is not a “substantial impairment of a major life activity.” It is just an “impairment of a major life activity.”  In making a reasonable accommodation it requires you to engage in an interactive process.

Rob Hale moved on to the new FMLA regulations. There were many changes and extensive. But the substance did not change much. Rob focused on three types of changes: (1) National Defense Re-Authorization act and military leaves, (2) some substantive leave changes, and (3) changes in the notice and information right.

The military change only applies to reserve and national guard being called up for military service.  Allows time off for when the soldier returns. Also allows leaves for childcare when a family member leaves for service.

Rob moved on to new substantive changes.

  • There is longer period for counting the 12 months of service
  • If the person is out on leave that could count as part of the 12 months of service
  • Serious health condition standard changed for 2 doctors visits, now within 30 days
  • Paid leave during FMLA leave, then the paid leave provisions overrule so you can get kicked out the paid leave to the unpaid FMLA leave
  • Intermittent leave allows you to count part of day absence as a full day absence under the “physical impossible rule”  (Rob used the example of a clean room worker.)
  • You can deny a perfect attendance bonus if the employee was out on FMLA leave.
  • Releases of past FMLA claims are now permissible. (You cannot release future FMLA claims.)

Rob moved on to the new notice changes. There is a new poster you need to put up. (Ours is up.) Rob points out that you can also post it electronically.

The designation notice needs to be delivered in five days. Employee notifications have largely not changed. They have to state that they want to take a FMLA leave. Saying you want to take time off to take care of a sick child (etc.)  may not be enough. There is more pressure on frontline managers to determine if the reason is FMLA eligible.

Employer can impose requirements on FMLA request that they do with other leave request. So you can require written notice or require them to call a certain number.

There are new forms for medical certification. There are also some new procedures for completing the form and what to do if the form is incomplete.

Rob emphasized the need to have a leave counting period. Employers need to designate the 12 month period during which they can use the 12 weeks of leave.  He has seen some employees win suits by using an alternative counting method.

Steve pointed out that California has an alternative law covering medical leave: California Family Rights Act.  California allows leave for domestic partners (registered with the state and living in the same residence). Pregnancy gives you a longer time off.  Interestingly, the domestic partner situation allows a longer time off because you can take the CFRA leave and then the FMLA since the domestic partner leave is not recognized under the FMLA.

Goodwin also made some materials available: