Just discovered that you or your significant other are expecting a baby or adopting a child soon? Congratulations! You are about to enter parenthood — one of the most exciting phases of adult life. If you or your spouse or covered same-sex partner are working presently, you may be aware that you could be eligible to take some time off to recover after the birth or to handle the details of the adoption, and to care for your new bundle of joy. You can also maintain your employee benefits during this time. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is something you will want to ask your employer about as soon as possible to make this a smooth transition for your family.
Learn About the Family Medical Leave Act
The FMLA is a workplace law that enables eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid, job-protected leave for qualifying life events, such as starting a family. Eligible employees are those who work for a private employer with at least 50 employees within 75 miles, or a school or government agency, and someone who works at least 1250 hours during a 12-month period preceding the leave. That is around 24 hours per week if you worked for at least a year, so even if you work part-time or as a seasonal worker, you could be eligible for this benefit.
Keep in mind that these 12 months do not need to be consecutive, so if you worked for 3 years, and then took a leave for 12 weeks, then returned to work for 7 months, you could still be approved for an FMLA leave. Also, if your private employer is not covered under FMLA, you could still be eligible under state laws.
An FMLA leave may be granted if you:
- Are expecting the birth of a child and will be caring for the child following the birth
- Are in the process of placing a child for adoption or foster care, or adopting or becoming a foster parent
Notifying the HR Department is Vital
It’s important to notify the human resource department at your place of employment as soon as you know you may need an FMLA leave under this arrangement. Why? This enables your employer to arrange for staffing coverage during the time that you will be out of work. It also enables your employer to coordinate your employee benefits so there is no break in coverage for you or your dependents during this time.
You may notify your HR department in writing and obtain the necessary medical documentation needed to validate your requests such as a doctor’s note or lawyer’s statement on letterhead indicating your approximate leave dates and return to work date. You can ask for this to be held confidentially in your employee file.
Next Steps Once You Are Granted an FMLA Leave Request
Once you are approved for an FMLA leave period, you will want to contact your employee benefits administrator to find out what additional benefits or information you may need. Find out what health coverage you have, what it covers, and how you can add your new child to your policy. You will also want to coordinate your work tasks and schedule with your immediate supervisor and the human resource team. Since some of the time you are on leave may be unpaid, you will also want to talk with your human resource and benefits administrator about any paid time off or other benefits you may be entitled to, such as adoption fee reimbursement.
Special Considerations for Pregnant Workers
If you are pregnant and need special accommodation to make your work environment safer or more comfortable, including any schedule adjustments or requests to telecommute, you may qualify for support under the EEOC, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Your employer cannot terminate you or threaten your job in any way during this time. Your employer may stay in contact with you during this time, but cannot ask you to conduct business or perform work tasks during an FMLA leave. According to the EEOC, “if you are unable to perform your job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, your employer must treat you in the same way any other disabled employee is treated”, therefore you may also qualify for short term disability benefits.
Remember, an FMLA leave is approved by state and federal workplace laws, so if you are finding it difficult to get this processed in a timely or satisfactory manner, you may contact the US Department of Labor division for your state. Be sure to learn more about your rights and responsibilities by downloading your free copy of the Family and Medical Leave Act Employee Guide.