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Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

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The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for any one or more of the following reasons:

  1. The birth and care of a newborn child;
  2. The placement of a child for adoption or foster care, and to care for the newly placed child;
  3. To care for a spouse, child, or parent (but not "in-law") with a serious health condition; and/or
  4. If you are unable to work because of a serious health condition.

If your spouse is employed by the same employer you both may be limited to a combined total of 12 weeks per year for: the birth and care of a child, placement of a child in foster care/adoption, to care for a newly placed child, and to care for your parent who has a serious health condition.

Eligibility

In order to be eligible for the FMLA, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours in the past 12 months, prior to the start of the leave; and
  2. Worked for a company that has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your jobsite. For example, if you work at a company that has 10 employees, but five miles away there are 40 employees working for the same company, you are eligible for FMLA leave.

In addition, the FMLA applies to all:

  1. Public agencies, including state, local, and federal;
  2. Schools; and
  3. Private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks.

Although this is unpaid leave, some companies have policies that allow you to be paid when you take time off under FMLA. Your employer must continue to provide the same health insurance during the leave as was provided while you were working. You are also enititled to the same or an equivalent position in terms of pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment upon returning to work.

You do not have to use all 12 weeks at once. You may take intermittent leave or reduced leave for a serious health condition. Intermittent leave is time off taken in separate blocks of time. You can use intermittent leave for things such as doctor appointments to take care of a serious health condition.

Reduced leave reduces your number of working hours, and is used for such things as physical therapy. Your employer may account for FMLA leave in the shortest period of time used in their payroll, as long as it is one hour or less.

How to Request FMLA Leave

In order to receive FMLA leave, you have to take the following steps:

  1. Submit a request to your employer as soon as you know you will need leave. If the need is foreseeable, give your employer 30 days notice. If it is not foreseeable, you must give notice "as soon as practicable", which generally means verbal notice within one or two business days of learning of the need to take the leave.
  2. You must provide sufficient information so that your employer understands that you need FMLA leave. You do not need to use the words "FMLA leave", but tell your employer that you need to take time off for health reasons. Keep a copy of your request for your records. 
  3. Your employer may require the medical need to be supported by a certification issued by a health care provider. If so, your employer must allow you at least 15 days to obtain the medical certification.

Once you ask for the leave, your employer must provide you with a written notice of your rights and responsibilities while on leave. It should be given to you within one or two business days of your request, and should contain the following information:

  1. The leave will be counted against your annual FMLA leave entitlement;
  2. Any requirements to provide medical documentation, and the consequences for the failure to do so;
  3. Your right to use accrued leave, and any requirements and conditions related to it;
  4. Any requirements regarding insurance co-pays, and arrangements for it;
  5. Any requirements regarding a fitness-for-duty certification;
  6. Your rights to job restoration;
  7. Any liability for reimbursement of health insurance payments if you do not return to work; and
  8. Whether you qualify as a "key" employee and when you may not be restored to your job.

KEEP A COPY FOR YOUR RECORDS

You should also:

  1. Obtain and keep copies of relevant medical records
  2. Keep copies of all documents you submit to or receive from your employer

Be sure your employer knows the law. If your employer denies your request, you may want to talk to your employer about the law. Your employer may not be aware of the FMLA. Nothing in the law prohibits employers from providing benefits more generous than the FMLA.

Call the U.S. Department of Labor at (702) 388-6001 or the Worker Rights Center at 1-888-465-6008 or (702) 866-6008 for more information.

Last Review and Update: Sep 23, 2002