Please note: As of January 20, 2021, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.
CORRECTED: Arkansas health-care facilities asked illegal, personal questions of workers requesting family and medical leave, federal initiative finds
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – More than 40,000 hospital workers at Mercy Health System and affiliated locations around the nation are no longer required to have their health care providers answer a litany of unnecessary and illegal questions before requesting leave for their own serious health conditions or to care for a family member.
The resolution comes after an investigation at the Mercy Hospital Fort Smith facility conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act in the process the organization had for employees requesting leave. The FMLA requires that employees provide enough information so their employer knows that their need for leave is due to an FMLA-qualifying condition before responding to a leave request. However, Mercy required that their employees’ medical certifications for leave include answers to intrusive and personal questions, well beyond the scope of what is allowed by law. For example, the forms provided by the hospital requested health information outside the scope of the illness related to the leave request and the name of the medication prescribed. The requirement to provide more information than is legally necessary or required can prevent workers who need and are qualified for FMLA leave from requesting such leave.
“Employers should take care to request only information needed to designate leave correctly,” said Betty Campbell, the division’s Southwest regional administrator. “Employees’ health conditions and those of their family members are between them and their health care providers. Demanding answers to unnecessary and possibly illegal questions may stop workers from taking much needed medical leave or time to take care of a loved one. The Wage and Hour Division is committed to ensuring workers’ access to this important workplace protection.”
The division conducted investigations as part of an education and enforcement initiative focused on FMLA compliance in hospitals and clinics. Investigators found that Mercy was not the only large Arkansas medical industry employer in violation of the FMLA. Mercy and two other organizations, Washington Regional Medical Center and HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Fort Smith, in some instances failed to meet the notification requirements of the FMLA, which require that employers notify employees of their eligibility for protected leave within five business days of the first leave request. Violations were disclosed at all three organizations in instances where that timeframe was exceeded. At the same time employers provide an eligibility notice, they are also required to provide a written FMLA Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities. At HealthSouth this information was provided orally, not in writing.
Investigators found enterprise-wide violations potentially affecting about 40,000 workers at Mercy Health, 2,177 at Washington Regional and 173 at HealthSouth.
For more than 20 years, the FMLA has been a major component in the department’s effort to promote work-family balance, providing workplace protections for those living with a serious health condition, or caring for a family member with a serious health condition. The act helps to ease the burden that can come with needing time away from work when faced with such an illness.
The FMLA provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave due to their own or a family member’s serious health condition with continuation of health care coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
For more information about federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.
Editor’s Note: The initial release incorrectly identified one of the hospitals that had been investigated. It was the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Fort Smith that was investigated.