Understanding FMLA Leave

An overview of what the US government offers for maternity leave

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Family and Medical Leave Act Overview

Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act is an important right for working moms to understand. Many women use FMLA leave to take time off after giving birth to a child or to care for a family member's chronic illness. This overview of FMLA leave will help you understand when you're entitled to it, and what loopholes might catch you off guard.

FMLA doesn't pay you while you're taking time off work, but it does protect your job and continues your health insurance. After you return from FMLA leave, your employer must restore you to the original job or an equivalent one.

What FMLA Provides

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave, known as FMLA leave, during a 12-month period for any of the following reasons:

  • the birth and care of your newborn child;
  • to care for a newly adopted or foster child;
  • to attend to the serious illness of an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent);
  • if unable to work due to your own serious health condition.

Are You Eligible for FMLA Leave?

To be eligible for FMLA leave you must either work for a branch of the government (local, state or federal) or a private company with at least 50 employees.

You also must meet all three of these conditions:

  • have worked for that employer for at least 12 months;
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months; and
  • work in a location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

Intermittent FMLA Leave

Under intermittent FMLA leave, an employee make take unpaid leave in blocks of time over the course of many weeks for a single qualifying reason. For instance, to receive chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

If you want to use intermittent leave when you're taking maternity leave, such as gradually returning to work, your employer must approve that arrangement.

It's also possible to substitute accrued paid leave, such as sick or vacation time, for FMLA leave so that you receive pay for part of your FMLA leave. In such cases, FMLA leave runs concurrently with the paid leave.

FMLA Leave for Members of the Military

FMLA contains special provisions for members of the military and their family. Under FMLA, you may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to care for an immediate family member who is in the military, National Guard or Reserves and has a serious injury or illness.

To understand how FMLA leave applies to your situation, please consult an employment law attorney or the Labor Deaprtment. This article doesn't constitute a legal opinion or legal advice.

Edited by Elizabeth McGrory