A 60 Second Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993. I can still remember when President Clinton signed FMLA into law amidst a lot of controversy. Many believed that employees needed the benefits and protections FMLA provides. Others were concerned that the government intrusion into business would have unintended consequences that would harm employers and employees alike.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the Family and Medical Leave Act is an important benefit available to nearly 100 million workers in the U.S. In this 60-second guide, you’ll learn the benefits offered under the FMLA, who qualifies, and how to take advantage of the Act should you need it.

How it Works

Under FMLA, a covered employer must grant a covered employee 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for any of the following:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”

Notice that these benefits are for “covered” employees who work for “covered” employers. It is important to understnad that FMLA does not apply to all workers.

Who is Covered

You are eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act if you have been employed at least 12 months, 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.

What are FMLA’s Benefits

Twelve weeks away from work is a long time. For many employees, such a long absence would raise concerns that the employer might lower their pay or possibly even fire them. FMLA covers these situations by requiring employers to provide employees with the following:

  • 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).

Military Personnel

Those in the military may take longer leave, thanks to amendments to the FMLA. Specifically, servicemembers may take up to 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

State FMLA

There are several states that have enacted their own version of the Family and Medical Leave Act. For example, in the District of Columbia, employers with 20 employees or more are covered, and workers can take up to 16 weeks of leave, not 12.

As a result, it’s important to check your state’s laws before making any decisions. Your employer should be able to let you know what state provisions are available.

How to Get Started

Depending on the reason for the leave, you will be required to have a doctor complete a form explaining the medical necessity requiring the leave. The form will not require great detail into the medical condition, but it will require some level of explanation. As an example, you can look at DOL Form WH-380-e for an idea of what is required. Finally, it’s not uncommon for employers to require 30-days notice before taking leave, unless medical circumstances prevent the employee from providing that much notice.

Final Thoughts

The Family and Medical Leave Act offers an important benefit to covered employes. It’s most common use is following the birth of a child. But FMLA can also be invaluable when you are sick or need to help care for a family member.

Published or Updated: December 3, 2012
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. As you mentioned, FMLA is most commonly used for maternity situations. Many families mistakenly assume that the leave is paid. Twelve weeks of unpaid leave just when expenses are rising is a painful lesson to learn the hard way.

    Five states have mandatory short term disability which provides partial income replacement. Families in the other forty five states have to plan ahead and purchase a private policy prior to conception.

  2. Rosa says:

    I can’t understand how women manage in the US, with such almost non-existent support for having and raising children. In Canada, you get a year of maternity leave, partially paid (about 55%) through unemployment insurance. Many employers offer top ups to 80% of pay. And no, you can’t lose your job. What do employers do? They hire someone for a year to cover the leave. Oh, by the way – I don’t have children, and never wanted any – but I have been the employer/supervisor many times. I ran libraries – a female-dominated profession. It’s just not that big a deal when that’s how it is. I do the same thing in the US now, & I can’t understand how women manage.

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