May 31, 2005 – The Dept. of Labor releases Advisory Opinion 2005-13A, addressing whether ERISA section 514(a) preempts the application of certain leave substitution provisions in state law provisions.
Northwest Airlines, Inc. sponsored the Northwest Airlines, Inc. Sick and Occupational Injury Leave Plan for Employees (Sick Leave Plan). It did not allow an employee to use paid sick leave to care for a child or other family member with a health condition or experiencing a health emergency.
At the time, the Washington State Family Care Act (Family Care Act) generally provided that employees entitled to sick leave or other paid time off may use such paid time off to care for certain relatives of the employee who have health conditions or emergency conditions.
ERISA section 514(a) generally preempts any state law which “relates to” an employee benefit plan covered under Title I of ERISA. ERISA section 514(d) provides that “nothing in this title shall be construed to alter, amend, modify, invalidate, impair, or supersede any law of the United States…or any rule or regulation issued under such law.” In the advisory opinion, the DOL states that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law of the United States whose overall purpose and structure parallel those of the state Family Care Act.
The DOL finds that:
“Because the FMLA does not afford all employees the automatic right to substitute paid sick leave for unpaid leave to care for a relative, we do not address whether ERISA preemption of the Washington Family Care Act providing such a right would “alter, amend, modify, invalidate, . . . or supersede” the FMLA. Rather, this letter addresses only whether ERISA preemption would “impair” the FMLA within the meaning of section 514(d) of ERISA. For the reasons discussed below, it is the view of the Department that the Family Care Act’s leave substitution provision is saved from ERISA preemption by ERISA’s federal savings clause because a determination that ERISA preempts the Family Care Act would “impair” the FMLA, which expressly encourages more generous state family leave rights than the FMLA provides directly.”