What is FMLA leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a Federal law, enacted to help employees balance work and family life.  If you are facing a serious health condition that causes you to miss work, whether due to your own condition or to care for a family member, you may be able to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off under the FMLA. 

Job-protected means that an employee returning from FMLA leave must be restored to their original position or equivalent position with the same pay, benefits, and other employment terms. FMLA is generally unpaid, although employers may have their own paid leave policies or be required to provide paid leave under state law.

There are U.S. state (and local) leave laws that are more comprehensive than the FMLA. For instance, there are paid family leave programs in D.C., California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington.

In order to take FMLA leave, you must work for a "covered" employer. 

Generally, private employers with at least 50 employees are covered by the law. Private employers with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA, but may be covered by state family and medical leave laws. Government agencies (including local, state and federal employers) and elementary and secondary schools are covered by the FMLA, regardless of the number of employees.

In addition to working for a covered employer, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Employed for at least 12 months
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer in the last 12 months
  • Work at a site with at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius

Common Types of Leave

  1. Conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility;
  2. Conditions that incapacitate you or your family member for more than three consecutive days and require ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication);
  3. Chronic conditions that cause occasional periods when you or your family member are incapacitated and require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year; and
  4. Pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest).

Basic Leave

The FMLA requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of leave for:

  • An employee’s serious health condition
  • Family member’s serious health condition (spouse, child, or parent)
  • Birth, or placement for adoption or foster care 

All genders have the same right to take FMLA leave to bond with their child, but it must be taken within one year of the child’s birth or placement. Leave must be taken as a continuous block of leave unless your employer agrees to allow intermittent leave.

Military Leave 

  • Up to 12 weeks of qualifying exigency leave (due to a family member’s covered active duty, or impending call or order to covered active duty)
  • Up to 26 weeks of military caregiver leave (for a child, spouse, or next of kin)

How to Request FMLA Leave

Employees should give their employers appropriate notice when requesting leave under the FMLA: 

  • 30-day advance notice for foreseeable leave
  • As soon as you can for unforeseeable leave (generally the day you learn of the need or the next work day)
  • You must follow your employer’s usual notice or call-in procedures for requesting leave
  • Notice may be given by your spokesperson (for example, your spouse or adult family member) if you're unable to do so personally (for example, if you are receiving emergency medical treatment)

You do not have to tell your employer your diagnosis, but you do need to provide information indicating that your leave is due to an FMLA-protected condition.

Your Eligibility & Rights

Within 5 business days of your first FMLA leave request, your employer must:

  • Notify you of your FMLA eligibility (eligible/not eligible)
    • If you're not eligible, your employer must state at least one reason why
  • Give you a notice of your rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. Including:
    • A definition of the 12-month period used to track FMLA usage
    • Whether you must provide medical certification from a health care provider
    • Your right to use paid leave
    • Whether you will be required to use your paid leave
    • Your right to maintain health benefits and whether you will be required to make premium payments
    • Your right to return to your job at the end of your FMLA leave

Medical Certification

If your employer requests medical certification, you only have 15 calendar days to provide it in most circumstances. You are responsible for the cost of getting the certification from a health care provider and for making sure your employer receives the certification . 

If you fail to provide the requested medical certification, your FMLA leave may be denied.

Health Benefits/Premiums

During FMLA leave, your employer must maintain your group health coverage. Generally, you will continue to pay the same share of health care premiums that you were paying prior to FMLA leave. If the leave is unpaid, you typically need to make arrangements for paying your premiums with your HR.

Communicating with Your Employer

You will need to inform your employer if your need for FMLA leave changes while you are out (for example, if your doctor says you can return to work earlier than expected). 

Your employer may require you to provide periodic updates on your status and your intent to return to work.

Returning to Work

The FMLA requires that your employer return you to the same job that you left, or one that is nearly identical (unless a special circumstance applies). 

If you exhaust your FMLA leave entitlement and are unable to return to work, your employer is not required to restore you to your position.

For complete information, please visit the U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Dept. of Labor resources:
Family and Medical Leave Act
Federal vs. State Family and Medical Leave

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