Addressing FMLA Administrative Challenges for Teachers: FMLA Special Academic Rules | Venable LLP

Schools face particular challenges when coordinating teacher leave. Although teachers are entitled to take up to 12 consecutive weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for covered reasons, upholding their right to take such leave can be difficult for school administrators trying to minimize disruption in the classroom.

Fortunately, the Department of Labor regulations implementing the FMLA contain specific rules applicable to schools, including independent schools, that provide school administrators with greater flexibility to coordinate teachers’ covered leave requests to minimize the burden. that the FMLA leave imposes on schools.

Employee coverage

The FMLA’s special school rules apply only to educational employees whose primary duty is to teach students in a classroom, small group, or individual setting. Educational employees include teachers, coaches, driving instructors, sign language interpreters, and other special education assistants. Teaching employees do not include other school employees, such as counselors, psychologists, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, bus drivers, teaching assistants and others people who do not instruct students as part of their primary job.

Leaving towards the end of term

Special school rules apply to teachers who request leave near the end of a school term. If a teacher begins FMLA leave more than five weeks before the end of a term, the school may require the teacher to remain on leave until the end of the term if their leave is expected to be at least three weeks and the employee would otherwise return. work for the last three weeks of the term. If the teacher begins the FMLA leave during the last five weeks of a term, the school may require the teacher to remain on leave until the end of the term if the leave is expected to be longer than two weeks and the employee would return to work for the last two weeks of the term. If the teacher begins the FMLA leave during the last three weeks of the term, the school may require the teacher to continue taking leave until the end of the term if the leave is expected to last longer than five working days.

When a teacher is required to remain on leave until the end of a school term, special school rules require schools to designate as FMLA leave only the period during which the teacher is actually unable to work, not the period after which they were able to return to work but the school asked them to remain on leave. In this case, the initial period of leave is required by the teacher and therefore should be charged against FMLA entitlements, but the additional leave is required by the school and therefore should not be charged to the teacher.

Similarly, if an employee’s FMLA leave begins before summer vacation and continues through the following school year, the period during summer vacation that the employee would not have been required to reporting for work does not count toward an employee’s FMLA leave entitlement. When the FMLA leave continues beyond the end of the school year, the school must continue to provide the employee with all benefits during summer vacation that the employee would normally receive had they worked at the end of the school year and was not on leave.

Intermittent leave

Teachers taking intermittent leaves pose significant problems for schools. For teachers taking longer leaves under the FMLA, schools are able to find a single, long-term substitute teacher who can continue to follow a class’s lesson plans during the teacher’s absence. of origin. For teachers taking intermittent leave, however, schools must find multiple short-term substitute teachers to cover frequent teacher absences, which significantly disrupts lesson plans and the classroom schedule. To help deal with disruptions in the classroom caused by intermittent holidays, special school rules impose certain limits on teachers taking intermittent holidays. If a teacher requires intermittent leave and the employee would be off for more than 20% of the total number of workdays during the leave period, the school may require the employee to take a certain period consecutive days off not exceeding the duration of the teacher’s scheduled medical treatment, or a temporary transfer to another available position for which they are qualified, which has equivalent pay and benefits and which better suits the periods recurring leave than the regular position of the teacher.

Other FMLA requirements still apply

In addition to special school rules, schools must always comply with their other obligations under the FMLA when responding to leave requests from education employees. For example, schools should ensure that there are proper procedures for notifying employees of their eligibility under the FMLA, designating FMLA leave, requesting medical certifications, and returning employees to work after FMLA leave.

Schools are well advised to review their current FMLA policies and procedures to ensure they are taking advantage of special school rules and complying with their other responsibilities under the FMLA.

Martha K. Merrill