Work is important, but so is family. The Family Medical Leave Act allows us time off to address challenges when family health issues conflict with our work schedules.
The prior version contained content from the United States Department of Labor.
What is the Family Medical Leave Act?
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a government program that gives employees the legal right to unpaid job-protected leave concerning family and medical reasons.
What is a covered employer?
Covered employers are employers who are legally bound by the FMLA guidelines. The guidelines include:
- All public agencies: local, state, and federal
- All local educational agencies: elementary and secondary schools, as well as public school boards.
- Private employers with 50+ employees in 20+ workweeks from the last calendar year until the present.
What factors make me eligible?
You qualify for FMLA if:
- You have been working for 12+ months.
- You have worked 1250 + hours before requesting leave.
- Your employer has 50+ employees within a 75-mile radius.
When can I use FMLA?
Employees are free to use their FMLA for:
- Childbirth or child placement during adoption or foster care.
- Serious health conditions for the employee or their immediate family
- Reasons stemming from military service including deployment as well as serious injury or illness.
Is my job protected?
Yes. After your leave, you have the right to return to work that is the same or similar to what you left including benefits, terms, and conditions.
Can my leave impact my group benefits?
No. Your employer must maintain your group health insurance the same as if you had never taken leave.
How much time do I qualify for?
You qualify for a maximum of 12 weeks, with weekly hour totals matching the average number of hours you work.
Example: Robert normally works 50 hours a week, while Norma usually works 35. When they apply for FMLA, Robert can take up to 50 hours a week for 12 weeks, but Norma can only take up to 35.
What is the proper way to request time off?
Requests for leave are not very formal, but they should be done as soon as possible and provide enough information to indicate that FMLA might be needed to cover it.
Example: Sheila has a major operation coming up in a month, but she waits until the day before to notify her manager. Sheila knew in advance, so she should have notified her supervisors as soon as she knew.
Example: "Bob, I need time off. Someone in my family is sick." More detail is needed because immediate family will allow you to qualify while distant family will not.
Do I have to use all my FMLA at once?
No. You are welcome to use the FMLA as needed. You can choose to take off certain blocks of time or reduce your working hours over an extended time.
Example: Tina has doctor’s appointments every other Thursday, and her health condition keeps her from working 12-hour days. Tina can take intermittent leave in small blocks of time for her doctor’s appointments. She can also request reduced schedule leave to address her inability to work 12-hour shifts.
Can my employer force me to use my vacation or sick time?
Yes. When you qualify for FMLA, employers are required to grant the time needed. However, they can require you to use your paid vacation and sick time during the permitted time period.
I’m a new parent. What are my FMLA rights?
New parents are granted unpaid leave for the birth, placement, and bonding with a newborn or newly placed child in the case of adoption.
I am not the parent, but I am a guardian. Do I have rights?
Yes. The Department of Labor (DOL) recognizes court-appointed guardianship of children, stepchildren, foster children, and adopted children. You perform many parental duties and offer the same type of financial security. Therefore, the DOL considers you in loco parentis, Latin for acting in the place of a parent, and you receive the same FMLA rights as any other parent.
Can my employer ask me for certification?
Yes, under many circumstances. Your employer cannot request certification when the FMLA is for a newborn or newly placed adopted or foster child. In other instances, the certification can be requested and should be submitted within 15 days of the request. If, for some reason, the doctor certification cannot be submitted within that timeframe, then the employer must allow you more time.
FMLA provide any special provisions for service members?
Yes. Time spent in service counts towards the required base period for FMLA eligibility. Service members also get up to 14 additional weeks of leave. So, instead of a maximum of 12 weeks, they qualify for up to 26.
What actions count as violations?
Section 105 of the FMLA says that employers are in violation when they:
- Hinder an eligible employee from using FMLA by discouraging them from requesting leave, changing their hours, and counting their leave as unexcused absences.
- Discipline workers or deny promotions as a means of retaliation for leave requests or for filing FMLA complaints.
My employer violated my FMLA rights. What can I do?
Keep detailed records of what happened to you. Create a timeline or list of events along with the names and places where the violations took place. Then, contact the DOL to file a complaint online or over the phone.
Where can I find tools that help me advocate for myself?
The DOL provides several helpful tools that will equip you to stand up for your FMLA rights.
- DOL Timesheet app
- Printable Work Hours Record Keeper
- Know Your Rights video series
- Worker’s Rights for young workers, immigrant workers, or those who work on farms and in restaurants.
- Worker Resources include tips for construction workers, nail salon workers, workers with disabilities, and federal service contract workers.
- DOL Publications in 20+ languages
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