Current FMLA Forms Now Expire June 30

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms expire June 30—not on their original expiration date of May 31—but aren’t likely to change when they’re replaced with new forms, experts say.

Employers who customize their own forms aren’t too concerned with the imminent replacement of the current forms, while employment law attorneys disagree on how much the DOL forms might be tweaked.

The FMLA forms are used to certify that an employee is eligible to take FMLA leave and to notify him or her of leave rights under the law. The forms expire under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, which requires the Department of Labor (DOL) to submit its forms at least every three years to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval, so the OMB can ensure processes aren’t too bureaucratic.

The DOL is renewing the current FMLA forms on a month-to-month basis until it replaces them with new forms. But the new forms may be virtually identical to the current ones and have a different expiration date, according to Jeff Nowak, an attorney with Franczek Radelet in Chicago.

In 2015, the DOL made a few minor tweaks to the FMLA forms so they would conform with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

This cycle, the DOL did not request any changes to the forms, Nowak said.

There have not been substantive changes to FMLA or its regulations in the past three years that would require changing any of the information provided or sought on the current forms, noted Tina Bengs, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Indianapolis and Valparaiso, Ind., and Chicago. So it seems likely that the new forms, once issued, will be approved for the maximum three-year period, she predicted.

Customization of Forms

Some employers customize the DOL-recommended forms for their own use, observed Steven Bernstein, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Tampa, Fla. For example, some employers are covered by state and federal FMLAs and adjust the federal forms to reflect state law requirements. Others make minor changes, such as referring to workers as “associates” rather than “employees.”

On occasion, employers incorporate reference to their accrued leave policies, while others adopt robust language disclaiming liability under the FMLA, he said.

He cautioned, however, that an employer can be held liable for using a form that harms the employee by misleading him or her about FMLA rights, and recommended that any changes be reviewed by an outside expert to ensure that added language does not inadvertently conflict with the FMLA.

Monica Velazquez, an attorney with Clark Hill in Collin County, Texas, prefers customized forms so that employers aren’t handing workers documents with the DOL logo. The logo makes the forms look more official than they are, she said, emphasizing that their use is optional.

Copy and paste the information from the DOL form into the employer’s own form, she recommended. If the employer plans to use its own language, use plain English and bullet points, she said. “Keep things as direct as possible.”

“I think the forms should have less space for health care providers to handwrite information,” said Megan Holstein, a senior vice president of absence and disability with Fineos in Denver. For example, instead of an open-ended question about the employee’s treatment schedule, a customized FMLA form might ask the doctor to choose a frequency of treatment—every week, month or year—and circle the response. This would reduce the challenge of reading doctors’ often illegible handwriting, she explained. Less space for handwritten information also would reduce the chances of doctors’ filling certification forms with confusing medical lingo, she added.

Many employers put the information about health conditions at the top of the medical certification forms, as it’s the first piece of information the employer wants—what ails the employee or family member—so the employer has a better sense of whether the employee is covered by the FMLA, Nowak noted. Nevertheless, he said he doesn’t have many concerns with the FMLA forms and encourages clients to use them.

FMLA Forms

The current DOL forms are:

ICE Planning Surge of I-9 Audits This Summer

Derek Benner, acting executive associate director for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) told The Associated Press that in addition to the plans for this summer, the agency will continue to focus on criminal cases against employers and deporting employees who are in the country illegally.

ICE has already opened more worksite investigations seven months into fiscal year (FY) 2018 than the agency completed in all of FY 2017. The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Enforcement investigations in FY 2018 have doubled last year’s total, and arrests related to worksite enforcement have nearly quadrupled.

Since October 2017, HSI has opened 3,510 worksite investigations, initiated 2,282 I-9 audits, and made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests. That’s up from 1,716 investigations, 1,360 I-9 audits, 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests the previous fiscal year.

If anyone was wondering if the Trump administration was more bark than bite, these numbers indicate a significant increase in enforcement action, noted Muzaffar Chishti, an attorney and director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law. “What is not clear is whether any employers are included in the arrests,” he said. “Arrests—both criminal and civil—are almost always workers. For example, no one from management was charged in the high-profile Tennessee raid in April. That seems to be an imbalance.”

The ICE Toolkit

ICE said it uses a three-pronged approach to worksite enforcement:

  • Compliance, via Form I-9 audits, civil fines and debarment from federal contracts.
  • Enforcement, through the criminal arrests of employers and administrative arrests of unauthorized workers.
  • Outreach, by participating in the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers program, in which ICE certifies organizations for complying with the law. As part of the program, ICE and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provide education and training on proper hiring procedures, fraudulent document detection and use of the E-Verify employment eligibility verification system.

Chishti believes pushing employers to enroll in E-Verify may be the aim of ICE’s more aggressive enforcement actions. “That strategy may work, but it only works for people who are on payroll,” he said.

E-Verify doesn’t enforce compliance for people paid as independent contractors, outsourced workers or those paid off the books, he said, adding that there’s a tendency for employers to explore these alternative hiring methods in response to increased enforcement.

Be Prepared for a New Normal.

Soon, ICE intends to conduct up to 15,000 Form I-9 audits per year, to be completed by electronically scanning documents in a not-yet-created national inspection center, Benner said.

“Investigations most often start with a notice of inspection alerting employers that ICE is going to audit their employment records for compliance with existing law,” said Michael H. Neifach, an attorney in the Washington, D.C., region office of Jackson Lewis. Enforcement actions can begin from a law enforcement tip or from an investigation into another type of violation, such as labor standards violations, and could result in civil penalties and/or criminal charges for employers.

ICE recently changed the way it calculates civil penalties to increase the fines imposed for I-9 violations. In FY 2017, employers were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines.

“Unauthorized employees who are not legally in the U.S. may be detained and, ultimately, deported,” Neifach said. “Given the government’s focus on worksite inspections, preparing for possible inspections by auditing your employment verification processes and records is an essential precaution.”

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