The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Employee Rights
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that was enacted to allow employees to address certain important needs without losing job security. The FMLA is a federal law that allows eligible employees of covered companies to take leave that is not paid but protected, based on particular reasons related to family or personal medical issues.
FMLA leave is unpaid, but an employer can require an employee to use accrued paid leave before they may take FMLA leave.
After you take FMLA leave, you are supposed to have your job reinstated, such that you go back to the same or an equivalent position after you complete your FMLA leave. There are some states in which more family leave is provided than under the FMLA, so you should look into whether your particular state has laws with better benefits or for smaller companies.
Which Employers Does the FMLA Cover?
Your employer is covered by the FMLA if it has at least 50 employees. If the employer is in the private sector, it must employ 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius every working day during the preceding calendar year. However, most federal employees are eligible for FMLA leave even if there are not 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius.
Not every employee is eligible for FMLA leave. You are eligible if you have worked for the covered employer for a minimum of 12 months for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of your FMLA leave. The hours of service are hours that you actually worked, not including sick days, holidays, vacations, or other periods in which you are away from work.
Which Conditions Trigger FMLA Protection?
Assuming that you are eligible, and your employer is covered, the FMLA entitles you to go on 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period for certain events. The leave is not paid, but your job is supposed to be protected, and your employer should continue your group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if you had not gone on leave. Events that trigger your entitlement to this leave include:
Caring for a spouse, child, or parent who suffers from a serious health condition,
Your child's birth, or needing to care for a newborn within one year of his or her birth,
Having a child placed with you for foster care or adoption or needing to care for a newly placed child within one year of placement,
A serious health condition that renders you unable to do the essential functions of your job,
Qualifying exigencies that arise because your parent, son, daughter, or spouse is a covered military member on covered active duty, or
26 workweeks of leave during a 12-month period to take care of a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin who is a covered service member who has a serious illness or injury.
You may need to provide a doctor's note or other medical certification if you are taking FMLA leave because a serious health condition has stopped you from performing an essential job function.
It may be possible to pursue a discrimination or retaliation claim against your employer if it terminated you or otherwise took an adverse action against you for taking FMLA leave. Damages that may be available include back pay, front pay, and liquidated damages.
Alternatives to FMLA Leave
If you ask for FMLA leave or provide notice of a qualifying reason for leave, your employer is supposed to let you know whether you are eligible for FMLA leave. Even if you are not eligible for FMLA leave, it may be worth discussing leave with your employer if you need time off for medical reasons, since there may be an alternative, such as leave based on state law, or a way to use your vacation or sick time.