U.S. Department of Laborheadquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Ed Brown via WikimediaCommons)

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As the great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said, life movespretty fast. Therefore, it's entirely possible you might havemissed the July 16 release of the U.S. Department of Labor's newFMLA forms.

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Plans to update the forms were initially announced last August,but those drafts were revised further after public comments werereceived. The new forms address issues surrounding thecertification required from an employee's health careprovider, as well as the designation and eligibility of leave.

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Related: 5 steps to reduce FMLA compliancerisk

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In a press release, the DOL described the formsas "simpler and easier to understand for employers,leave administrators, healthcare providers, and employees seekingleave." The DOL also claims that their changes "reduce theamount of time it takes a healthcare provider to provideinformation, and help leave administrators review and communicateinformation to employees more directly and with greater clarity,reducing the likelihood of violations."

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The new forms can be used by employers to comply with theirobligations under the FMLA, but they are not required to use thoseforms.

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What's new in the forms? Catherine Cano of Jackson Lewis PC says the newmedical certification forms may reduce the amount of informationmedical providers offer about serious medical conditions. Previouscertification forms dedicated several blank lines for providers todescribe  "symptoms, diagnosis, or any regimen ofcontinuing treatment" related to the condition. The new forms nowstate that this information is not "required," says Cano, and offeronly a couple lines for providers to write details. They also notethat certain information, like diagnoses, may be restricted bystate or local law.

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Cano questions how the potential lack of medical informationwill impact administration of leave, "particularly in casesinvolving intermittent leave or multiple serious healthconditions."

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Cano's not the only one with questions about the new forms. In apiece written for FMLA Insights, Jeff Nowak of Littler writes, "Everynew notice and form requests that the employee's name be written atthe top of each page. Whatare we, second graders?  Come on, dumb idea."

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Nowak also points out that although the notice of eligibility"provides a much clearer explanation of how employer-provided,accrued paid leave runs concurrently with FMLA," it still leaves amisleading part intact: "that the 15-day period to returncertification runs from the time the employer provides the medicalcertification, which is not true.  The employee has 15days from the timethey receive thecertification, not from the time the employer actually sends itout.

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"This could have been an easy fix, but DOL swung and missed onthis one," Nowak laments.

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Nowak does give a thumbs-up to parts of the medicalcertification, particularly the requirement for a "bestestimate" of the employee's or family member's futuretreatment. He also notes that the new certification "makes clearthat an employer dare not request certification for FMLA leave tobond with a healthy newborn child or a child placed for adoption orfoster care. Yeah, this is a no brainer, but plenty of employersstill get this wrong, and clearly, DOL thinks so, too."

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As in the past, the DOL has also issued a Request for Information, asking for feedbackfrom the public on what they would "liketo see changed in the FMLA regulations to better effectuate therights and obligations under the FMLA." The deadline for commentscloses September 15.

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Richard Binder

Richard Binder, based in New York, is part of the social media team at ALM. He is also a 2014 recipient of the ASPBE Award for Excellence in the Humorous/Fun Department.