By Tracy Billows, Annette Kim, and Abigail Cahak

Finding balance, being able to spend more time with children, aging parents, and still maintaining a job are hot topics we regularly see in the media.  Well, if Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney has her way, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) will be expanded to address some of these issues.  On February 5, 2014, Congresswoman Maloney (D-NY) reintroduced the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act (“FMLEA” or “the Bill”) to Congress, which, if passed, will bring many small employers under the FMLA.

The Bill would vastly expand the number of covered individuals by slashing the minimum number of employees needed for an employer to fall under the FMLA.  Currently, the FMLA only applies to employers with fifty or more employees.  If the FMLEA is passed, the minimum threshold of employees would be reduced by half, to only twenty-five or more.

In addition to broadening who is covered, the Bill also proposes to expand what is covered.  At this time, the FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, including taking time to care for an employee’s spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition.  The proposed expansion would allow employees to use leave for reasons that (1) do not necessarily rise to the level of a serious health condition, or (2) in some cases, are not medically related at all.  The FMLEA proposes up to four additional hours of FMLA leave per month to participate in or attend activities sponsored by a school or community organization attended by an employee’s child or grandchild.  It would also allow employees to use FMLA leave for routine family medical care, such as medical or dental appointments for an employee’s spouse, child, or grandchild.

Although many employers have already been providing these types of leave under state family and medical leave laws or other state laws, the changes proposed by the FMLEA cannot be overstated.  Only four state leave laws currently cover employers with fewer employees than the federal requirement of fifty or more.  Very few state laws contain provisions allowing leave for “small necessities,” such as school visits and routine doctors’ appointments.

So how will this affect smaller employers in the long run?  We will have to wait and see whether the legislation is actually passed and in what form.  Stay tuned for updates on Employment Law Lookout.