New DOL Guidance on FMLA Telemedicine Visits

As we move into the second month of 2021, the coronavirus pandemic remains firmly rooted in our everyday thoughts and actions. Recently, the federal government has taken action to alleviate a few of our workforce’s countless concerns.

As more employees are engaged in telecommuting and virtual communication has become a staple for many organizations, the Department of Labor has issued new guidance for certain employers who have workers taking a leave of absence for health reasons under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of job-protected leave in a 12 month period for, among other things, a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job. A “serious health condition” is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. And the DOL defines treatment as an “examination, evaluation, or specific treatment, and does not include, for example, a phone call, letter, email, or text message.”

This is where the new guidance comes in. With the advancement of technology, telemedicine is rapidly providing an alternative to the more common “in person” doctor’s visits. The DOL now recognizes that health care providers are now often using telemedicine to deliver examinations, evaluations, and other healthcare services that would previously have been provided only in an office setting. Therefore, the Department will consider a telemedicine visit with a health care provider as an in-person visit under the law, provided specified criteria are met: the telemedicine visit must include an examination, evaluation, or treatment by a health care provider, be permitted and accepted by state licensing authorities and generally should be performed by video conference.

It seems clear that this small step is a governmental effort to reduce at least one hurdle for employees. Call Employers Council with questions; we can help.