Q: I know we have to post the DOL's "general notice" poster somewhere, but what exactly are we required to do with it?

A: Post it along with your other required employment law posters, and publish it to all employees.

The Department of Labor's "General Notice" poster, or as the department artfully calls it, WH Publication 1420, is available in.pdf form on the DOL's website. Under the FMLA rules, employers must both post this notice and publish it to employees.

Posting

An FMLA-covered employer must post a copy of the General Notice in each location where it has any employees, even if there are no FMLA-eligible employees at that location. According to the rules, the notice must be posted "prominently where it can be readily seen by employees and applicants for employment." The text "must be large enough to be easily read" and "must contain fully legible text." Large-format copies of the poster are available from many vendors. However, employers must ensure that the text of the poster is fully legible and identical to that in the DOL's model notice.

The poster may be posted electronically, so long as it "otherwise meets the requirements" of the rule. While posting on an open website would satisfy this requirement, posting on an intranet page not accessible to the public would arguably violate the requirement that the poster be available to applicants for employment as well as employees.

(Why the poster must be available to applicants, who have no rights under the FMLA unless hired, and even then not until they have worked for at least 12 months, is not explained.)

Publication

If an employer has any FMLA-eligible employees, the General Notice must also be included in the employer's employee handbook, policy manual, or "other written guidance to employees concerning employee benefits or leave rights." If no such materials exist, a copy of the notice must be given to each new employee upon hiring. In either case, the notice may be given electronically. Thus, including the poster in an online employee policy manual is sufficient. As with the poster, while employers may use a different format, all of the information included in the DOL's model notice must be provided. To avoid any question of compliance, we recommend simply including the entire DOL form as an appendix in the employee handbook or manual. We also strongly advise employers to obtain an acknowledgement from each employee that he or she has received and reviewed the handbook or manual.

Language

If a substantial portion of an employer's workforce speaks a language other than English, the notice must be provided in a language in which the employees are literate. The Spanish version of the poster is well-hidden on the DOL site, but is available in .pdf form.

Penalties

Employers who fail to comply with the General Notice requirements under the rules may face civil monetary penalties. More importantly, failing to provide the notice can preclude an employer from using key defenses to an FMLA claim, such as the employee's failure to give proper notice of the need for FMLA leave.