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Is a Common Cold a 'Serious Health Condition'?

HR professional asks Senate to close FMLA loopholes

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A representative of the world's largest organization devoted to human resource management appeared before a Senate panel today to ask that confusing loopholes in the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) be closed.


"HR professionals have two primary concerns with the act's regulations--the definitions of 'serious health condition' and 'intermittent leave,'" said Katheryn Elliott, member of the Society for Human Resource Management and assistant director of employee relations at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. She appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families.

Elliott pointed to the challenge HR professionals face in interpreting contradictory guidance from the Department of Labor (DOL) regarding whether serious health conditions include ailments such as the common cold, the flu, and non-migraine headaches.

"Practically any ailment lasting three calendar days and including a doctor's visit now qualifies as a serious medical condition," cautioned Elliott. Addressing another FMLA loophole, she added that "HR professionals encounter numerous operational challenges in administering unscheduled, intermittent leave."

Under current policy, intermittent leave is often difficult to track. It poses significant staffing problems for employers, and it places an unexpected burden on employees who must cover the workload of absent co-workers. The unintended consequence: unpredictable, unscheduled, and potentially open-ended leave.

SHRM supports the spirit and intent of the FMLA and understands the need to help employees balance work and family demands. Elliott testified that she herself has benefitted from FMLA maternity and family leave policies, allowing her to care for a son with a health condition and an aging parent. However, she said, after 15 years implementing the 1993 FMLA in the workplace, she and other HR professionals have seen that the law comes with both numerous positive benefits and significant administrative challenges.

She added that the society looks forward to working with Congress to craft practical workplace flexibility policies that meet the needs of employees, families, and employers.

To review SHRM's testimony, visit the SHRM Government Affairs Web page at Reporters requesting interviews on SHRM's workplace and legislative priorities may contact SHRM Media Affairs at (703) 535-6273 or (703) 535-6356.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world's largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 230,000 individual members, the Society's mission is both to serve human resource management professionals and to advance the profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM currently has more than 576 affiliated chapters within the United States and members in more than 135 countries. For more information, please visit SHRM Online at

SOURCE Society for Human Resource Management
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