Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that can be of assistance if you need to take time off from work because of family responsibilities. Enacted in 1993, FMLA requires certain companies to provide employees unpaid leave for issues related to family (such as caring for a newborn or adopted child) or health issues (your own or a family member's).
However, not all employers need to adhere to FMLA, and not all employees are eligible. Your company might even provide additional benefits, like paid maternity leave, or you may be eligible for disability insurance. Some organizations will offer more liberal leave policies in order to attract and retain talent especially in industries where there is a shortage of qualified workers and during tight labor markets.
Therefore, the first step in learning about eligibility for coverage is to ask your employer what FMLA benefits are provided to employees. If your manager isn't aware of FMLA guidelines, check with the human resources department directly.
What FMLA Covers
Employers with more than 50 workers must provide eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid FMLA leave during any 12-month period. These 12 work weeks do not need to be consecutive.
In addition, the employer must give the employee his or her job back after the leave or offer them another position with equivalent pay and benefits. During this period, the employee still has the health insurance benefits provided by the company.
Who's Eligible for FMLA
An FMLA-eligible employee is an employee who has worked for their employer at least 12 months, has worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and works at a location where the company employs 50 or more workers within 75 miles.
Under FMLA, covered employers must grant unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
- For the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee
- For care for an adopted child or child in foster care
- To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
- To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition
- To deal with emergencies related to a family member’s active military duty
FMLA applies to both mothers and fathers, including same-sex spouses.
The National Defense Authorization Act extends coverage to employees with spouses, children, or parents who now are serving on, or have been called up for, active duty in the military. These emergencies might include the following:
- Childcare for the child of a deployed military member
- Attending certain military briefings or ceremonies
- Making financial or legal arrangements related to the military member’s absence
If the military member becomes seriously ill or injured while on active duty, coverage may be extended up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave each year.
State Family Leave Legislation
California has implemented a Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program, which when taken in conjunction with FMLA and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) leave, provides up to six weeks paid leave.
New York also has a paid medical leave program that provides 10 weeks of paid leave at 55% of the statewide average weekly wage (AWW) in 2019. Additional coverage up to 12 weeks and 67% of the AWW will be phased in by 2021.
New Jersey, Rhode Island, DC (2020) and the state of Washington (2020) also have or will implement paid leave programs.
Other states also have or will soon have programs that provide expanded coverage including acceptable reasons for leave, length of leaves and compensation, so check here to determine the benefits available in your location.
How to Tell Your Manager
Before talking to your supervisor and human resources department about wanting to take FMLA leave, see if your employers qualify for FMLA leave. Check with your company’s human resources office. Also, find out if your company provides other benefits related to your situation, such as maternity or paternity leave or disability insurance.
When you need to take FMLA leave, speak with your employer as soon as possible.
You are required to provide 30-days advance notice in writing when the need is foreseeable.
For example, if you know you are adopting a child and will need to take leave, it is typical that you will know at least that far in advance. However, if you are unable to tell your manager ahead of time, provide as much notice as possible.
If possible, reassure your employer that you are very motivated to return from your leave to resume your duties. Mention your willingness to train staff and any ideas you have to ease the transition.
Where to Find More Information
For more information, or if you have questions on the FMLA, review the U.S. Department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act overview, information for employers and employees, guidelines, and forms.