Your Rights Under FMLA

What You Need to Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act

New parents are covered by the FMLA
••• Getty Images/Ariel Skelley

The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act), a U.S. federal law that was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, lets workers take time off from their jobs if they are seriously ill or need to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, or a seriously ill parent, child or spouse. Although leave is unpaid, employees are allowed to keep their medical benefits, paid time off, and seniority.  Provisions to help military families were added in 2008 and updated in 2013.

Who Is Eligible to Take FMLA?

To be eligible for the FMLA, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Your employer must have employed 50 or more workers for at least 20 weeks of the current or preceding calendar year. These employees must work within 75 miles of your worksite.
  • You must have worked for that employer for at least 12 months, not necessarily consecutive, for a total of at least 1,250 hours during the period immediately preceding your leave.

For What Reasons May You Take Leave Under FMLA?

If you are an eligible employee, you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12 month period for the following covered reasons:

  • You have an illness that makes you unable to work.
  • You have given birth.
  • You are caring for your newborn, newly adopted child, or a child who has been placed with you for foster care.
  • You must care for your seriously ill spouse, child (under 18 except in certain circumstances), or parent.

How Does the FMLA Protect Eligible Employees?

If you take leave under FMLA, it protects you in the following ways:

  • When you return to work your employer must reinstate you to the same job you had before beginning your leave or an equivalent one.
  • Your employer must continue your group health benefits during your leave.
  • Your employer can't take away your accrued benefits, for example, seniority or paid time off. You won't, however, continue to accrue these benefits while on leave.
  • An employer can't discriminate against you for taking leave under the FMLA.

What Do You Have to Do If You Need to Take Unpaid Leave Under FMLA?

If you need to exercise your right, under FMLA, to take unpaid leave, you must inform your employer of your desire to do so. If you know in advance that you will need to take time off, referred to as "foreseeable leave," you must request it at least 30 days before you want it to begin. If your need is sudden, called "unforeseeable leave," you must request it as soon as you can. Follow your employer's standard and customary call-in procedures, unless you have unusual circumstances.

  • Let your employer know how you plan to take your leave: all at once or intermittently. Or do you need a reduced work schedule? Intermittent leave means you will take time off during different periods. You must get your employer's permission to take an intermittent leave or use a reduced-leave schedule to care for a newborn or a newly adopted, or foster child.
  • Provide medical certification, if your employer requires it, when you need to take leave because of your own illness or to care for a relative. Your direct supervisor may not contact your healthcare provider, due to concerns about privacy and he or she may only provide information related to the condition for which you are requesting the leave.
  • Continue to pay for your share of group health benefits while on leave under FMLA.
  • Inform your employer when you intend to return to work or if the circumstances of your leave change, for example, if you must take a lengthier leave or will be ready to return to work sooner than anticipated.
  • Provide proof from a physician that you are ready to return to work if your employer asks you for it.

State Family and Medical Leave Laws

Several states have their own family and medical leave laws. Some even require employers to pay their workers during their absence. If you are covered by both FMLA and a state family and medical leave law, your employer must allow you to take leave under the law that offers greater benefits. If you want to find out if your state has a family and medical leave law, contact your state's labor office.

What To Do If Your Employer Fails to Abide by the FMLA?

If your employer denies you the right to use FMLA, you can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Contact your local district office.

What is Military Family Leave?

In 2008, provisions to help military families were added to FMLA. They were updated in 2013. 

  • To be eligible for Military Family Leave, the employee must meet the eligibility requirements for FMLA as described earlier.
  • The FMLA-eligible spouse, parent, or child of a currently or about-to-be deployed member of the U.S. Armed Forces may take exigency leave or military caregiver leave.
  • Exigency Leave pertains to circumstances arising from the military member's deployment. It may include taking time off from work to deal with financial or legal arrangements; attend deployment-related events; make childcare arrangements for the child of the military member (who may or may not be the child of the person taking the leave); attend counseling for yourself, the military member, or his or her child because of a deployment-related issue; or spend Rest and Recuperation Leave with the military member.
  • Military Caregiver Leave allows you, as the spouse, parent, child, or next of kin of a current service member or military veteran discharged within the last five years, to take up to 26 weeks in a single 12 month period to care for him or her in case of a serious injury or illness.


Information included here has come from the following sources on the U.S. Department of Labor Website. Please consult them if you would like to learn more about FMLA and Military Family Leave: