FMLA: What’s It All About?

FMLA stands for “Family and Medical Leave Act,” and is designed to accommodate qualifying employees with as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year. Under the act, the employee’s job is also protected. Any group medical benefits will continue as normal, so the employee does not suffer the additional burden of paying for medical costs outside of their policy. The FMLA was passed in 1993 and marked one of the crowning achievements of Bill Clinton’s time in the White House.

The act essentially allowed members of families to take time off without jeopardizing their ability to retain their jobs. Before the bill was introduced, families ran a much higher risk of going into financial hardship due to circumstances beyond their control. As such, the bill was a welcome provision for families struggling to deal with family or medical issues. Rather than negatively impacting the workforce, the FMLA helps strengthen employment numbers by keeping people in work who would have otherwise had no choice but to voluntarily terminate their employment.

Equal opportunities

Under the FMLA, qualifying employees are also afforded equal opportunities. If you qualify for FMLA and avail of the stipulated time off, it will not affect your rights to pursue promotion or other opportunities within the workplace. That means, your employer cannot use the fact that you took time off to disqualify you from applying for any openings. Another added benefit of the FMLA is that it encourages employers to make reasonable adjustments, which benefit both the employee and the business. What’s more, the bill helped even the playing field for male and female employees in respect to opportunities in the workplace.

Which employers provide FMLA?

Public agencies are subject to FMLA, as are elementary and secondary schools. If an employer has more than 50 employees, they must allow the full 12 weeks’ unpaid leave per year, provided the employee qualifies under the rules of FMLA. Not all employees automatically qualify, however, so it is important that you understand your rights to unpaid leave under the bill. The list of conditions under which you can avail of leave is not limitless, so you should secure the leave before arranging any important appointments or paying for services.

Which circumstances qualify?

When you are blessed with a new addition to the family, you can take time off to care for the child. The same applies to parents who are fostering or adopting children into their home. FMLA also helps you manage your time when you are responsible for caring for a loved one – such as one of your children, your spouse, or a parent – should they become seriously ill. If you are suffering from a health condition, which affects your ability to work and requires time consuming medical treatment, you have 12 weeks of unpaid leave to work with.

However, your leave request is not automatically limited to FMLA because of the specific circumstances. You can work with your employer in order to come to a better arrangement, where you still receive pay for the time that you take off. Other options include paid vacation leave, flexible working hours, or reasonable adjustments to your workload that allow you to deal with family or medical issues. It is important to ensure that taking advantage of FMLA is right for you, based on your personal circumstances. There are also instances where the employer and employee can make one-off agreements, such as for allowing you to attend a family funeral.

State laws

While the FMLA represents a considerable benefit for employees nationwide, it is often better to avail of state laws and provisions. In the case where a state law exists which is of more benefit to the employee, the employer is responsible for ensuring that law is giving precedence. Disabled employees, for instance, may benefit more from the provisions outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), therefore any request for leave must be considered under that act. You, as an employee, need only provide adequate information about your circumstances and needs, so that your employer can consider your request under the applicable law.

Although the employer is responsible for knowing the law in respect to you receiving the most appropriate type of leave or reasonable adjustments to your working life, that does not mean that they will. If you believe that your employer is obligated to provide you with leave under the FMLA, you should pursue any dispute first through your direct supervisor and then the company’s human resources department. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, you can then seek to pursue the dispute through legal avenues.

Seeking ssistance

Assistance is available to you from the Wages and Hours Division Office of the U.S. Department of Labor. The FMLA Compliance Guide also provides additional information on who is entitled to avail of leave under the act, and when. The guide is extremely useful; however, if your circumstances are complicated it may still be unclear which law applies to you. If you are not sure how you should proceed, you can also seek legal advice and representation from an experienced labor lawyer. When you are already dealing with a stressful situation, it is hard to think straight. Hiring a labor lawyer will take the pressure off of your shoulders and ensure you receive everything you are entitled to under the law.

Regardless of your circumstances, both state and federal laws are very clear on what you are entitled to during times of personal challenge. Labor lawyers, throughout the United States, will make sure you receive fair treatment under the law. Labor lawyers can advise you on your rights as an employer, or provide legal representation should your employer fail to meet their responsibilities to you under the FMLA or any other applicable law. When you are already facing challenges juggling your work and home life, you do not need the added frustration of having your rights ignored.