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Family and Medical Leave Act: Overview

This article answers questions about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It is adapted from content written by the United States Department of Labor, in its FMLA Fact Sheet.

What employers must follow the Family & Medical Leave Act?

The FMLA only applies to employers that meet certain criteria. A covered employer is a:

  • Private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer;
  • Public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or
  • Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.

Read more from Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act on dol.gov.

Eligible employees under the FMLA

Only eligible employees are entitled to take FMLA leave. An eligible employee is one who:

  • Works for a covered employer;
  • Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
  • Has at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave*; and
  • Works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

Special hours of service eligibility requirements apply to airline flight crew employees. See Fact Sheet 28J: Special Rules for Airline Flight Crew Employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Leave Entitlement

Eligible employees may take up to 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care;
  • To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or
  • For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.

Read more from Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act on dol.gov.

How much notice must workers give employers in order to get FMLA leave?

Employees must comply with their employer’s usual and customary requirements for requesting leave and provide enough information for their employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request. Employees generally must request leave 30 days in advance when the need for leave is foreseeable.

Read more from Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act on dol.gov. And, see Fact Sheet 28D: Employer Notice Requirements under the FMLA. 

Can an employer ask for proof in support of FMLA leave?

When an employee requests FMLA leave due to his or her own serious health condition or a covered family member’s serious health condition, the employer may require certification in support of the leave from a health care provider. An employer may also require medical opinions and periodic recertification of a serious health condition.

See Fact Sheet 28G: Certification of a Serious Health Condition under the FMLA.

For information on certification requirements for military family leave, See Fact Sheet 28M(c): Qualifying Exigency Leave under the FMLA; Fact Sheet 28M(a): Military Caregiver Leave for a Current Servicemember under the FMLA; and Fact Sheet 28M(b): Military Caregiver Leave for a Veteran under the FMLA.

Read more about job restoration, health benefits and more from Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act on dol.gov.