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Allegheny Co. Cracks Down On Medical Leave

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It was one of his first acts in office in 1993: President Bill Clinton signing the federal Family & Medical Leave Act, or FMLA for short.

The law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave to all who work for companies with 50 or more employees or the government when they need time to care for a newborn, a seriously ill family member, or their own medical situation.

But the law has not always been applied evenly.

"A number of county departments treat FMLA in various ways," says Laura Zaspel, director of the Allegheny County Human Resources Department.

Concerned that certain departments like the county jail allow more unpaid leave than others -- and that some employees pad out their holidays with unpaid leave -- the county has hired UPMC Work Partners to verify medical need and impose consistent standards for all 7,000 employees.

"We want to make sure that the experts again who have clinical knowledge and medical knowledge are dealing with those kinds of decisions," adds Zaspel.

Government employees are not the only ones accused of abusing the Family & Medical Leave Act.

Private employers also make the same accusation, although attorneys who represent employees say that's usually just an excuse to keep those employees from exercising their legal rights.

Charles Lamberton represents employees whose bosses deny them leave or retaliate against them when they return to work -- and he's seen the tactics of employers.

"We just need a little bit more documentation. We just need you to submit another doctors report. We just need you to answer these 58 other questions," he says, mimicking employers.

And he says workers need to stay alert when asserting their FMLA rights.

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