February 24, 2012: Warehouse jobs are brutal. Production standards and mandatory overtime take a toll on our bodies.
FMLA intermittent leave is a tool we can use to protect ourselves.
Teamster warehouse jobs are grueling, the hours can be long, and management can be unreasonable. Fortunately, a federal law provides working Teamsters with some protection if we know how to exercise our rights.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows covered employees to take up to 12 weeks time off each year—either for a serious medical condition, or to care for an immediate family member.
You don’t have to take this leave all at once or in a continuous manner. If you have a chronic condition, you can take FMLA as you need it—one day at a time, or even a few hours in day. This is called “intermittent leave.” Medical conditions for which you are entitled to take intermittent leave include:
- chronic neck, back, knee, and shoulder injuries
- migraine headaches
- and many more
You can also take intermittent leave to care for a family member suffering from a serious health condition. That includes your parents, spouse, and children.
How to Get Covered
You can qualify for leave in advance by obtaining a report from a healthcare provider describing your condition and the likelihood that you will need medical leaves on an intermittent basis. Ask your employer for its FMLA medical certification form, ask your provider (doctor, psychiatrist, chiropractor, etc.) to fill it out, and submit it to the medical or human relation department.
To qualify for family leave, ask your family member’s healthcare provider to fill out an FMLA certification indicating your relative’s medical condition and the likelihood that you will be needed to provide care for him or her on an intermittent basis.
Once you’ve turned those forms in, you’re eligible to start taking intermittent leave when you need it.
You should be allowed to take intermittent leave for up to six months without a fresh report. At that point, your employer can ask for recertification.
But watch out: if you qualify for intermittent leave for a back condition, and also incur absences due to migraine headaches, your employer can insist on a certification for this condition. The same goes if your family member needs your care for a different condition.
When Can You Take It?
Once you certify an FMLA medical condition, you can take time off whenever required by the condition. Leave can be taken for multiple days, a single day or less.
If your condition flares up when you are on the job, you can leave work before the end of your shift—including if you have been scheduled for mandatory overtime. You must, however, explain your medical problem to your supervisor or the company.
“Where I work, virtually everyone has a chronic knee, shoulder, or back injury,” a warehouse worker told us. “Flare-ups can happen anytime—especially when a supervisor is pushing us too hard.”
“My company holds us to the letter on production standards and mandatory overtime—no matter how unreasonable those standards are,” said another Teamster steward we interviewed. “So we hold the company to the letter of the FMLA—no matter how much management complains about it. We’ve learned the FMLA rules and we take intermittent leave when we need it.”
Notifying the Boss
You do not have to schedule intermittent leave ahead of time. But you do have to follow your company’s procedures for calling in an absence.
Call your supervisor. Be sure to say you are unable to work because of your medical condition or because a family member needs your assistance due to a serious health condition. Do not just call in “sick.” Your company may require that you also call the department that handles FMLA claims or a third-party administrator—in addition to your supervisor. To qualify for sick pay, you may have to fill out additional forms for an insurance company.
Dealing with Management
Your manager may make you jump through hoops to use intermittent leave.
Some companies require you to burn your vacation time when you are on FMLA leave. The union may be able to file a grievance against this tactic. Contact TDU for advice.
Others take advantage of an FMLA rule allowing them to schedule you for an exam by a second healthcare provider, of their choice. Your employer must pay for this exam—including your transportation expenses.
If the second provider disagrees with your doctor, you can be sent to a third provider that you and the company choose together. The third provider’s decision is final.
It’s no surprise that many employers hate intermittent leave and the flexibility it gives workers to take care of ourselves.
In 2009, just four days before George W. Bush left office, employers pushed through new regulations that make it harder to take intermittent leave.
Under the old regulations, employers could make employees recertify their health conditions every 12 months. Under the new regulations, they can make you recertify every six months.
To get recertified, you have to go back to see your healthcare provider and have them fill out new paperwork.
The most restrictive change is that the company can demand a “fitness report” from your doctor if they have “reasonable safety concerns” about your ability to do the job. Management can delay your return until your doctor submits the report. They cannot, however, require a fitness report more often than once every 30 days.
“If you’re going to use intermittent leave, get informed and protect yourself. Get a copy of The FMLA Handbook and read it,” a veteran warehouse Teamster told us.
Management can and will come after employees who they think are abusing the law.
Information is your best protection.
The fourth edition of attorney Robert Schwartz’s FMLA Handbook includes the 2008 regulatory revisions, and is available from TDU. Click here to order your copy.
If you need help in enforcing your rights, contact TDU at 313-842-2600.