By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff
On January 7, 2020, the Department of Labor released a new opinion letter, FMLA2020-1-A, addressing eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The letter, signed by Administrator Cheryl M. Stanton, is the official written opinion by the Wage and Hour Division on how the FMLA applies in the specific circumstances presented by the person or entity requesting the letter.
Counting employees. In the opinion letter, Stanton addresses the question whether a combined general health district must count the employees of the county in which the health district is located for the purpose of determining FMLA eligibility for its employees. Here, the health district and the county did not appear to be the same or single public agency employer to the extent that the health district must count county employees working within a 75-mile radius to determine whether a health district employee is eligible for FMLA leave.
Ohio law. Notably, Ohio law treats a health district as a political subdivision separate from any county or other local government agency or body. The Ohio Attorney General has issued opinions finding that health districts are entities separate from the cities, townships, or counties in which they are located. Further, under state law, a health district is able to sue and be sued in its own name, enter into contracts on its own behalf, and acquire, hold, possess, and dispose of real and personal property—all factors that indicate its independence from other public entities.
Separate entities. In this case, the health district manages its own budget and does not rely on any county funds. The county has no part in hiring, firing, or supervising the health district’s employees, and the health district’s board of directors is largely independent from the county. Moreover, health district employees do not participate in the retirement system administered by the county, although both health district and county employees may participate in a statewide retirement system. Finally, while the county auditor processes the health district’s payroll, the health district pays the auditor for this service. Together, these factors show that the health district and county are separate entities for FMLA purposes.
Although the U.S. Census Bureau classifies the health district as a subordinate agency of the county, this is just one factor under WHD regulations (29 C.F.R. § 825.108(c)(1)). Here, “the vast majority of factors, including the longstanding interpretation of Ohio state law by the courts and the state attorney general, support the conclusion that the County and health district are separate entities of the Ohio government,” Administrator Stanton wrote, concluding that “the health district and the County do not appear to be a single public agency employer for the purpose of determining FMLA eligibility.”
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