DoL: More Generous State Law Not Preempted By ERISA

June 24, 2005 ( - The US Department of Labor (DoL) has issued an advisory opinion stating that a state leave law similar to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is not preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The  opinion letter refers to the  Family Care Act of the state of Washington and its application to the Northwest Airlines, Inc. Sick and Occupational Injury Leave Plan for Employees, according to an EBIA report.

The Sick Leave Plan has no provisions allowing an employee to use paid leave for the care of a child or family member with a health condition or emergency.   However, the state’s Family Care Act as well as the FMLA allow for substitution of paid leave for family members.   The Family Care Act is more generous than the FMLA, though, since FMLA allows the substitution only if the employee or a family member has a serious health condition, and the employer would normally provide paid leave in that situation.

The DoL mentions in its letter that normally ERISA would preempt the state law in relation to the airline’s leave policy.   However, citing Section 415(d) of ERISA which states that “nothing in this title shall be construed to alter, amend, modify, invalidate, impair, or supersede any law of the United States…,” the DoL concluded that preemption of the state law would “impair” the FMLA, which encourages more generous state leave laws.

More details of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be found  here .

-Rebecca Moore

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