Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees can wait as long as two days after their shift begins to notify employers they are claiming time. The Labor Department wants to end that practice except for emergencies.
"The default rule is that you must contact employers ahead of time," Assistant Labor Secretary Victoria A. Lipnic said.
That change, which was sought by businesses that complained about workers unexpectedly not showing up, is one of several the Labor Department wants to make under the 15-year-old act. The proposed changes become public Friday.
The law grants eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for such things as caring for a newborn or a sick family member, or because the employee has a serious health condition. It generally covers employers with 50 or more employees. Seven million people took FMLA leave in 2005, the latest year for which data is available.
Congress planned to review the proposed regulations, the first changes since the law was passed in 1993.
"While the Department of Labor's proposal may not dismantle the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act as some in the business community wanted, the proposal clearly benefits employers at the expense of workers," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
One of Miller's subcommittees planned to hold a hearing on Feb. 15, while a subcommittee of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Labor Committee scheduled its own hearing for Feb. 13.
"I am deeply concerned that the administration's rules will make it more difficult for workers to take medical leave when they need it, and will impose unnecessary burdens on those who rely on the FMLA's protections," Kennedy said.
The Labor Department also wants to:
- Allow employers to require "fitness-for-duty" evaluations for workers who took intermittent FMLA time and are returning to jobs that could endanger themselves or others. Employers would also be allowed to require employees to prove they can still do the job in their "fitness-for-duty" evaluation.
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Allow businesses to exclude people who took FMLA time from perfect attendance awards.
Stop employers from charging FMLA time to employees who come back to work but can only do "light" duty.
Redefine having a "serious health condition" to require at least two visits to a health care provider within a month of being incapacitated. People who have chronic serious health care conditions would be required to visit a health care provider at least twice a year.
Make people who are diagnosed with illnesses lasting an unknown period of time get medical certifications of their problems every year.
Quickly craft regulations putting into effect a law allowing workers to take as much as 26 weeks of FMLA leave to take care of an injured or ill member of the military.
The Labor Department's 500 pages of changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act were to be released Friday. They were scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday and would be available for public comment for 60 days.
Labor Department officials hope to get final regulations before the end of the year.
Industry and employee advocacy groups said they had not yet seen the proposed changes.
"Until you see the details, you can't make much of a judgment," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. "We've seen all kinds of ways where things that sound reasonable can become difficult hurdles."
Jason Straczewski, the National Association of Manufacturers' director of labor and work force, was more upbeat. "Right now, from what I've heard about it, it sounds like there are going to be some good common-sense reforms in this proposal," he said.
Press; By JESSE J. HOLLAND]
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