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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees the right to take extended leave time to care for a sick family member. Borne out of the push for better work-life balance, employees that meet the requirements are eligible to take up to 12 workweeks from leave. Employers with 50 or more employees that work at least 20 consecutive workweeks are covered under the FMLA. Read more for which employees are eligible for FMLA leave and how they can get it.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993. It allows employees to take temporary, unpaid leave to care for a family member (or themselves) with a serious health condition, without losing their job. It is intended to help balance work and life (and medical needs).

How long is FMLA leave?

Employees can take 12 workweeks of leave in a 12 month period, for:

  • Birth of a child, or placement of child with employee for adoption or foster care
  • Care for spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition
  • Care for an employee’s own serious health condition that makes them unable to perform essential job functions
  • A qualifying emergency if a spouse, child or parent is a military member on covered active duty, or called to active duty status

Who is eligible for FMLA?

Employees must meet the following requirements to be eligible for FMLA leave:

  • They must work for a covered employer.
  • They must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months.*
  • They must have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave (different for airline flight crew employees).
  • They must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

*The 12 months of leave do not have to be consecutive. Time previously worked, including seasonal work in most cases, can be used to meet the 12-month requirement. However, a break in service that lasted seven years or more – unless the break in service was due to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) – would make the employee ineligible for FMLA rights.

Who is considered ‘family’ according to the FMLA?

The FMLA family member definition includes:

  • Children – whether they are a biological child, stepchild, adopted or foster child, or legal ward under 18 years of age. That includes those “in loco parentis” (in place of a parent) situations, where the employee assumes day-to-day care or financial responsibility for children (even if they are not biological or legal relationship). Individuals over age 18 with physical or mental disabilities and incapable of self-care are considered children.
  • Parents and “in loco parentis” (employees can take time off for an individual who stood in place of a parent when the employee was a child).
  • Spouse – common law or same-sex marriage
  • Next of kin (nearest blood relative)

Who is a covered employer?

Employers covered by the FMLA include:

  • Private employers 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 local, state or Federal government agency) regardless of the number of employees it employs
  • Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs

Wounded Service Member/Military Leave

An employee can take up to 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious illness or injury if the employee is the next of kin of the service member.

Will I get my old job back?

Employees may not necessarily be reinstated to their original job. They may be given an “equivalent” job with equivalent pay, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Group health insurance coverage should be continued under the same terms and conditions during FMLA leave.

Do I get paid while on FMLA leave?

Employers are not required to pay employees during FMLA leave. Employers can set policies for how an employee’s accrued vacation, sick, or other leave should be used (in conjunction with FMLA leave). For example, some employers may require employees to use their paid leave before using FMLA leave.

Employer Requirements under the FMLA

Employers must:

  • Post FMLA notices in workplaces where employees can see them.
  • Include information about FMLA in employee handbooks or provide information upon hiring.
  • Notify employees of eligibility for FMLA leave, and rights and responsibilities under FMLA if the employee requests FMLA leave.
  • Notify employees whether leave is designated as FMLA leave and the amount of leave that will be deducted from the employee’s FMLA entitlement.
  • May require certification of a serious health issue or reason for FMLA leave.

Employees should consult with employers and human resources managers to determine their eligibility for FMLA leave, depending on their unique situations. For more information on State Family Medical Leave laws visit The Department of Labor