What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and How Can You Use It?

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As most of you already know,  the United States does not have a nationally mandated leave policy that covers time off.  Employers can have a wide variety of leave policies, some more generous than others.

Acknowledging this, in 1993 President Bill Clinton included the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in his agenda to support parents in the workforce.

FMLA covers pregnancy and birth, adoption, foster care placement, serious personal or family illness, and family military leave.

In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. FMLA covers both public- and private-sector employees,

FMLA-eligible employees can  take up  to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year.

In general, your rights under FMLA are as follows:

  • the same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions to premiums, that would exist if the employee were not on leave.
  • restoration to the same position upon return to work. If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.
  • protection of employee benefits while on leave. An employee is entitled to reinstatement of all benefits to which the employee was entitled before going on leave.
  • protection of the employee to not have their rights under the act interfered with or denied by an employer.
  • protection of the employee from retaliation by an employer for exercising rights under the act.
  • intermittent FMLA leave for his or her own serious health condition, or the serious health condition of a family member. This includes occasional leave for doctors’ appointments for a chronic condition, treatment (e.g., physical therapy, psychological counseling, chemotherapy), or temporary periods of incapacity (e.g., severe morning sickness, asthma attack).

However, if you are in the top 10% of earners at your place of employment, your employer may be able to claim that denying the employee their position is “necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer.” 

Some states have expanded the FMLA coverage, extending the definition of a family member to include domestic partners, step-parents, grandparents, parents-in-law, among others. It’s worth it to check on your state to get specifics.