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Wisconsin has a special place in the history of employee family and medical leave rights. In 1988, Wisconsin became the first state to enact legislation granting those qualifying employees a period of unpaid leave to address serious health conditions within a family and births or adoptions that add to a family. This law is known as the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act. Wisconsin even beat the federal government to the punch, preceding the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. By now, few would argue with the concept of providing family and medical leave rights to employees when the need arises.

Since 1993, however, Wisconsin employers have found complying with both the WFMLA and the FMLA to be one of the most challenging issues of the workplace. And this is with good reason. Though similar, there are plenty of significant differences between the two laws. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has a great chart highlighting these differences. Some of the major distinctions lie in employee eligibility, amount of leave, and substitution of paid leave.

Despite the compliance confusion, the FMLA remains the target for change on both sides of the political aisle. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is one of the most powerful lobbying interest groups in the state. One of its top priorities for the current legislative calendar is to make changes to the WFMLA. These changes would seek to align the WFMLA with the FMLA to eliminate the confusion caused by differences in the two laws.

Additionally, a federal legislator has introduced a bill that would expand FMLA benefits for employees. On February 5, 2014, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act of 2014. Among the changes if passed, the FMLEA would make employers with 25 or more employees covered by the FMLA and allow for periods of “parental involvement” and “family wellness” leave.

Stay tuned to the Walcheske & Luzi, LLC Wisconsin Employment Law Blog to learn of any changes to these important laws.

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