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Family and Medical Leave Act

School & Work

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), explained.

This article provides information about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It discusses the benefits and protections that the FMLA provides. Here, learn more about whether the FMLA applies to you, your family, and your employer. 

What rights does the FMLA provide?

The FMLA is a federal law that lets certain employees take leave from work for family or medical reasons. An eligible employee can take up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period. In some situations, an employee may take 26 weeks of leave during a 12-month period, as discussed below. 

Employers do not have to pay employees during their leave. They do have to meet the following requirements: 

  • Your job is protected while you are on leave. Your employer must give you your job back or provide you with a similar job when you return to work. A “similar” job has the same pay, benefits, and duties as your previous job. 

  • Your employer must provide health insurance coverage while you are on leave. It must be the same coverage you would have if you were still at work. 

To see if you can take leave under the FMLA, you must answer three questions: 

  1. Does the FMLA cover my employer? 

  2. Am I eligible for FMLA leave? 

  3. Do I have a qualifying reason to take FMLA leave? 

The next few sections address each of these questions. 

Does the FMLA apply to my employer? 

An employer is not required to allow employees to take FMLA leave unless the statute covers them. The FMLA has different rules for public and private employers. 

The FMLA applies to all public agencies. This includes most federal, state, and local government employers and school districts. 

For private-sector employers, whether the FMLA applies depends on the number of employees. The law covers employers who had 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks during the past year. 

Am I eligible for FMLA leave? 

Employees of covered employers have to meet the following criteria: 

  • You must have worked for your employer for a total of at least 12 months. 

  • During the 12-month period before you want to start leave, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours. This equals 31¼ 40-hour weeks. 

  • Your employer must have at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of your workplace. 

These requirements leave most part-time employees out of being eligible for leave. 

What are the qualifying reasons for leave under the FMLA? 

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take leave because of their own health or a family member’s health. The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor has more information in Fact Sheet #28F: Qualifying Reasons for Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Birth and Bonding 

An employee can take FMLA leave to give birth to a child. Either parent can take FMLA leave to bond with their newborn child. A parent must take this type of leave within 12 months after the child’s birth. 

In most cases, an employee must take this type of leave all at once. If they are taking the full 12 weeks of leave, they must take 12 consecutive weeks off from work. An employer can approve a request to take intermittent leave, such as taking off every other week. 

For more information, see Fact Sheet #28Q: Taking Leave from Work for Birth, Placement, and Bonding with a Child under the FMLA

Adoption or Foster Placement and Bonding 

This type of leave is similar to FMLA leave to bond with a newborn child. The leave must be completed within 12 months after the adoption or foster placement. If their employer agrees, an employee can take intermittent leave from work. 

An employee’s leave can begin before the adoption or foster placement if they need time to prepare. FMLA leave might be available for activities like the following: 

  • Attending counseling sessions; 

  • Consulting with an attorney; 

  • Appearing in court; or 

  • Traveling to complete an adoption. 

Serious Health Condition 

An employee can take FMLA leave if they have a serious health condition. A health care provider must have found that the health condition either: 

  • Prevents the employee from working at all; or 

  • Keeps them from performing an essential part of their job. 

This could involve an injury that requires the employee to remain in the hospital. It can also involve an illness that requires regular medical treatment, such as chemotherapy for cancer. An employee who must be absent from work for medical treatment cannot perform an essential function of their job. 

An employee can take FMLA leave intermittently for a serious health condition. They might be able to work between treatments, for example. The employee must consult with their employer to find the best way to schedule leave time. 

See Fact Sheet #28P: Taking Leave from Work When You or Your Family Member Has a Serious Health Condition under the FMLA

Family Member’s Serious Health Condition

An employee can take FMLA leave to care for a spouse, parent, son, or daughter with a serious health condition. For parents and children, this includes: 

  • Biological relationships; 

  • Adoptive relationships; 

  • Stepparents and stepchildren; 

  • Foster parents and children; 

  • Legal guardians and their wards; and 

  • Other “in loco parentis” relationships where someone provided a child with daily care and support. 

The FMLA’s definitions of parents and children do not include “in-law” relationships, such as a mother-in-law or son-in-law. 

Leave is available in the following situations: 

  • The family member cannot care for themselves because of their health condition. For example, a family member might need help managing their medication, preparing food, or performing other daily tasks. 

  • They need help getting to and from medical appointments. 

  • The employee can provide them with reassurance and comfort as they deal with a serious condition. 

In cases involving sons or daughters who need help, leave is available for serious health conditions if the child is under 18. A parent can take FMLA leave for a son or daughter who is 18 or older and “incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” See Fact Sheet #28K: "Son or Daughter" 18 years of age or older under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Military Family Member on Active Duty

An employee with a family member on “covered active duty” in the U.S. Armed Forces can take FMLA leave for “qualifying exigencies.” The family member could be a spouse, son, daughter, or parent. 

“Covered active duty” refers to deployment to a foreign country. 

“Qualifying exigencies” include issues that may arise due to overseas deployment, including the following: 

  • Preparing for a short-notice deployment; 

  • Making new childcare arrangements; 

  • Making financial or legal arrangements for the family member’s deployment; and 

  • Attending military events, including official ceremonies, support groups, and information briefings. 

For more information, see Fact Sheet #28M(c): Qualifying Exigency Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Military Family Member’s Serious Injury or Illness

An employee may be able to take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave to care for a military family member with a serious injury or illness. The relative must be a “covered servicemember” or a “covered veteran.” This includes people who meet the following criteria: 

  • They are current or former members of the regular Armed Forces, National Guard, or Reserves. 

  • They incurred an injury or illness in the line of duty, or their service made an existing condition worse. 

  • Their condition prevents them from performing their duties or working. 

The employee must be the servicemember’s spouse, parent, son or daughter, or the “next of kin.” 

The WHD has more information in Fact Sheet #28M(a): Military Caregiver Leave for a Current Servicemember under the Family and Medical Leave Act or Fact Sheet #28M(b): Military Caregiver Leave for a Veteran under the Family and Medical Leave Act

What conduct does the FMLA prohibit? 

The FMLA protects employees’ rights to leave by prohibiting various actions by employers. The WHD investigates alleged violations by employers, and it may take action to enforce the law. Employees may also file lawsuits against employers that violate their rights. 

Employers may not do any of the following under the FMLA: 

  • Interfere with an employee’s use of FMLA leave; 

  • Discourage an employee from taking leave; 

  • Coerce or intimidate an employee into not using leave; 

  • Fire an employee for using leave; 

  • Count leave time against an employee’s work attendance; 

  • Adjust an employee’s work schedule in order to prevent their eligibility for leave; 

  • Refuse to allow leave that an employee has earned; 

  • Refuse to reinstate an employee in their previous job, or a similar job, at the end of their leave; or 

  • Take other adverse actions against an employee because they took FMLA leave. 

The WHD has more information in Fact Sheet # 77B: Protection for Individuals under the FMLA

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