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When President Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act in February, he instituted one of the most comprehensive employment laws since the Americans with Disabilities Act. Its impact on an employer's operation will be dramatic, and the potential penalties and damages for those companies that fail short of its mandate will be significant.
The Act provides employees with temporary leave in the event of the birth or adoption of a child, the serious health condition of a family member, or their own serious health condition. In passing the Act, Congress specifically has recognized the dramatic increase in the number of families in which both parents or single parents are working. Congress also has noted the lack of employment policies that reflect the "choice" working parents have to make between job security and parenting, providing care for ill family members, or taking care of their own serious health condition.
The provisions of the Act that cover private employers go into effect on August 5. However, for employees who were covered by a collective bargaining agreement on February 5, 1993, the Act's provisions become effective on the date of the agreement's termination or February 5, 1994, whichever is earlier.
Who is Covered?
The Act defines the term "employer" very broadly to encompass virtually every organization possible--"any person engaged in commerce or in any industry affecting commerce who employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year." The Act incorporates the definition of "person" from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes "an individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, legal representative, or any organized group of persons."
In order to be eligible for the protection of the Act, an employee must be at a place of employment for at least 12 months, or not less than 1,250 hours. Employees will not be eligible if they are employed at a worksite with less than 50 …