An FMLA Refresher for the Restaurant Industry

One of the most frequently misunderstood regulations in the restaurant industry is the Family and Medical Leave Act, more commonly referred to as FMLA.

With specific time frames and restrictions, this policy continues to prove difficult for employers to enforce, even 20 years after its introduction. Due to the nature of the service industry, rife with part-time or intermittently scheduled employees, restaurant owners and operators tend to struggle at a greater rate.

Since failure to follow the guidelines can result in hefty fines and penalties, employers would be best-served to learn the basics ASAP.

What is FMLA?

FMLA acts a safeguard for eligible employees by providing twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a twelve-month period.

It can be used for the following life situations:

  • Pregnancy, prenatal medical care, or childbirth
  • Care for self, spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • Placement of a child for adoption or foster care
  • Military Family Leave

Military Family Leaves includes two types of leave: Qualifying exigency and military care. Qualifying exigency leave may be used when the “employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on covered active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty.”

Military caregiver leave applies when an eligible employee will be caring for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness. For this circumstance only, employees may receive up to twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single twelve-month period.


Who qualifies for FMLA?

To be eligible for FMLA, employees must meet the following requirements:

  • The employee works at a site with at least 50 employees within 75 miles
  • The employee has been with the company for twelve months
  • The employee has worked 1,250 hours in the last twelve months


Fines and Penalties

The past few years have seen a rise in the number of FMLA-related lawsuits, jumping 26 percent from 2013 to 2014. And with that increase, more employers are facing fines and penalties.

In the restaurant industry alone, we’ve seen cases levied against a range of restaurants – from small, independent companies to larger, multinational operations like TGI Fridays.

The Chicago-based restaurant, Rosebud, found themselves in hot water when an employee filed a court case against them, claiming FMLA violations. There were significant details to this case, but essentially, the employee was not reinstated to her former position (or even a similar position) upon her return to work, which is a violation of FMLA’s guidelines.

She filed a claim and Rosebud was ordered to pay her $55,000 in back pay and $325,000 in damages. Many restaurants couldn’t stomach that kind of financial hit.


Our FMLA Process

At Restaurant HR Group, we’ve developed a very specific, step-by-step process for handling our clients’ FMLA requests. It’s actually a total of 19 steps, which goes to show the complexities of this legislation.

Our process ensures that all federal requirements are met, including the completion of the notice of eligibility, physician documentation, FMLA designation, and continuation of health insurance.

All said, FMLA is a fantastic policy that protects employees during some of life’s most trying circumstances. It’s imperative to follow it to the letter though, not only to protect your bottom line, but also to provide as much relief to your employees as possible.

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What other FMLA questions do you have? Please tell me in the comments below!



Carrie Luxem is the founder and President of Restaurant HR Group, a full-service HR group based in Chicago, IL. Carrie will be sharing her wisdom from over 15 years in restaurant human resources through guest-posts on the Homebase blog.

You can find job descriptions, hiring guides, and more from Homebase and Restaurant HR Group in our free HR resources.


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