You've posted the department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) notice prominently, and you have a basic understanding of the law and you're confident your employees do too. So you can relax, right? Wrong. After nearly a year and a half under FMLA -- which applies to companies with 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius -- prudent CEOs are realizing that they should do more. You need to create your own FMLA policy by filling in the details the law has left to your discretion. To avoid inconsistencies, misunderstandings, and nasty telephone calls from the DOL, consider the following -- before any employee requests a leave:

· Under FMLA, companies may require employees to use accrued paid time off as part of the 12-week entitlement. "You should decide up front if that's what you're going to do," says Robert G. Brody, a managing partner at the law firm of Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman, in Chicago. "And you need to make sure employees know it." An employee who goes on FMLA leave without knowing he's forfeited his Christmas week off will be justifiably angry. Ask employees to read and sign a copy of the DOL's poster, "Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993," as well as any written company policy.

· Create a clearinghouse for FMLA paperwork, and make sure all supervisors know the procedure for leave requests. "An employee may tell his supervisor he has a serious medical condition, but if the supervisor doesn't know about FMLA and allows that employee to go on leave without informing him, the company is violating the law," says Brody. And employees can take intermittent leave -- up to several days at a time -- for serious illnesses. You're asking for trouble if you don't have a system for tracking time off.

· FMLA says, "Employers may require medical certification to support a request for leave because of a serious health condition." Beware. If you ask one employee for proof of a serious illness, you must ask all.

· You must continue health coverage for an employee on leave, but you may ask him to cover his share of the premiums. If you do, establish a collection process. You're not obliged to continue such benefits as life and disability insurance, but you may not require employees to requalify for benefits. So don't suspend coverage unless your insurance company will reinstate all benefits immediately.

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For more information, contact --
Society for Human Resource Management (703-548-3440). Ask for "Sample Policy for Family or Medical Leave" ($10).

American Management Association (800-538-4761). Request "The HR Focus Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act" ($19.95).

The Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration (fax: 202-219-8740). n