Union leaders in the areas hardest hit by the storm are likely to get a few uncommon FMLA questions in the next few days. For example, do the days my federal office was closed count against my 12 weeks of FMLA leave I was on at the time, can I use FMLA to deal with the effects of the storm, can the storm cause a serious health condition entitling me to FMLA? 

Private sector employees’ days on FMLA leave count against the 12 week limit even if their office closes for a natural disaster unless the office closes for a week or more.  However, most federal employees, namely those under Title II of the Act, get a better deal, which is simply stated in federal regulations at 5 CFR 630.1201.

Any holidays authorized under 5 U.S.C. 6103 or by Executive order and non-workdays established by Federal statute, Executive order, or administrative order that occur during the period in which the employee is on family and medical leave may not be counted toward the 12-week entitlement to family and medical leave.

So, union leaders might want to check with their members on FMLA to make sure they know that the closings due to Hurricane Sandy are not counted against their 12 week leave entitlement. If other family members work for private sector employers they could easily be working with incorrect information.

Can employees use FMLA to deal with the effects of the storm?  Generally no if it is to deal with flooded basements, broken windows, salvaging belongings or even searching for missing relatives.  However, if as a result of Sandy or any natural disaster the employee or covered family member suffers a “serious health condition,” they can use FMLA.  For example, most often employees would be eligible of their if blood pressure soars to unacceptable levels, anxiety sets in, depression occurs, respiratory problems arise, or even if they are needed to care for someone who no longer has access to vital medical assistance due to the loss of power or nursing services.

Can a natural disaster cause a serious health condition?  Sure it can, whether it is PTSD, a physical injury, or just the inability to get around once services such as public transportation are lost to those otherwise disabled. If you encounter this problem, check out our posting entitled, “Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Commuters.”

If an employee has problems getting adequate leave or other accommodation to deal with a personal disability, do not forget about the employees’ right to claim a reasonable accommodation under the disability laws and regulations.  Temporary office reassignments or even telework approval would be the most obvious accommodations for the permanent or temporarily disabled.

As with any situations where federal employees’ rights flow from laws or regulations, check with a competent attorney if you have difficulties or questions.  FEDSMILL’s posting should not be considered legal advice.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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