The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 is a federal law that provides workers with unpaid time off for qualified circumstances. The FMLA gives certain employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year for medical or family reasons. The purpose of the FMLA is to afford employees an opportunity to balance work with family life while accommodating the business needs of employers.
Who is covered by the FMLA?
The FMLA covers all public agencies – federal, state and local – as well as educational agencies; and employees in the private sector whose employer has a minimum of 50 employees. To be eligible for leave under the FMLA, covered employees must meet the following requirements:
- Worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. For airline employees, the work hour requirements are a minimum of 60 percent of the employee’s guarantee and worked a minimum of 504 hours.
- Employer must have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the employee’s work location.
- Worked for their employer for a minimum of 12 months prior to taking leave.
What are qualifying reasons for leave under FMLA?
An employee of a covered employer who meets the above requirements is entitled to take FMLA leave for:
- Medical leave for any health condition that prevents the employee from working.
- Care for a member of the employee’s immediate family (spouse, children, parents) with a serious medical condition.
- The birth of a child.
- Child adoption or foster care placement with the employee.
The FMLA also provides leave for family members of military personnel under certain circumstances relating to deployment of the service member. Also, an employee may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a single 12-month period for the care of a covered service member due to illness or injury.
Note: With regard to childbirth leave, the FMLA was intended to also provide covered employees the time to bond with their newborn child. Spouses working for the same employer may be entitled to a combined total of 12 weeks FMLA leave for the birth and care of a child, adoption or foster care placement; or the care of a parent with a serious health condition.
As mentioned previously, the FMLA also takes into consideration the legitimate needs of employers. For this reason, your employer may require you to first use any paid leave you have available before granting FMLA leave. Likewise, the needs of the business may justify that your employer fill your job with someone else in your absence, and offer a substantially equivalent position on your return, in accordance with FMLA guidelines.
How Is FMLA leave job-protected?
Under FMLA, covered employees who take leave for any of the above qualifying reasons are entitled to return to their same job or an equivalent position. FMLA also entitles them to continuation of health care benefits during leave as though they had not taken leave.
To qualify as an equivalent position, in the event that the employee cannot be returned to their same job, the new job must meet the following criteria:
- Consist of essentially the same duties and status of the original job.
- Pay an identical salary, with all of the same compensation entitlements, including overtime, profit-sharing, etc.
- Provide the same benefits as the employee’s original position in the company.
While it is not required by law that an employee provide documentation to the employer as proof of a qualifying serious medical condition, your employer nonetheless is within their rights to request such verification. If you are so requested, the employer is required to do so within five days of your request for leave, after which you will have 15 days in which to furnish certification from the relevant health care provider.
For more information on your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website.