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

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If you are an employee, there are certain situations in which it is acceptable to ask for time off… even if it’s not on your calendar.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the United States’ first and only law designed to help women and men meet the dual demands of life and work. It guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical situations so real it requires no humor. Think of it as a personal medical leave — not just for your employees, but also for their families.

What is FMLA?

The FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act, entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

It was signed into effect in 1993 by President Clinton after a nine-year campaign led by the National Partnership for Women & Families. Over 200 million people have taken advantage of the FMLA since its inception, taking time away from work to care for family members or serious health issues, without jeopardizing their jobs. Due to this, our national and workplace cultures have also undergone significant changes.

The act was introduced to deal with the messiness of everyday life. By giving each employee up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, FMLA gives families a chance to cope with unexpected events like a serious illness, the birth of a child, or the need to care for an ailing family member.

When can I take leave under FMLA?

Those who are eligible for FMLA leave may take leave under the following circumstances: 

  • You have a serious health condition
  • If you are caring for a new baby, an adopted child, or a foster child,
  • If you have a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition
  • You are caring for a wounded service member or veteran
  • If you need time off from work to deal with the deployment of a service member or member of the armed forces.

Is it paid or unpaid?

Since this law requires employers to let their workers take time off to care for an ill family member, you might assume that the time off would be paid. 

However, you’d be wrong to assume so. You can take the 12 weeks off per year you have been granted to help your ailing relative, but you won’t be able to collect a paycheck while you do it. The FMLA doesn’t require your employer to pay you while you are on leave. You may, however, be able to use any paid annual, vacation, or sick time that your employer provides. Ultimately, your employer’s leave policy will dictate whether or not you may combine your FMLA leave with another leave. 

Will I still have my job after?

Long story short, yes!

When an employee returns from FMLA leave, they must be placed in the same position or in a position with “equivalent benefits, pay, status, and other terms and conditions of employment” according to the Act. Taking FMLA leave also entitles the employee to continue to receive health benefits. Employees on unpaid FMLA leave may pay their share of the insurance premiums on a current basis. They can also pay it upon their return to work.

What are the eligibility requirements?

The FMLA provides job-protected unpaid leave to eligible employees if they meet three criteria.

First and foremost, your employer must have 50 or more employees on the payroll for 20 workweeks. This can be in the current or preceding calendar year.

You can determine if your employer is covered by checking how many employees are on the payroll, including those on leave and working part-time. Your employer does not need all 50 employees on-site at your worksite to qualify. However, there must be at least 50 employees throughout all of its worksites within a 75-mile radius. 

Second, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the previous year. For example, if you worked 25 hours per week for 50 weeks in a year, you would have worked 1,250 hours in that year. There are, however, certain rules that apply to teachers, high-paid employees, and airline flight crew members.

Lastly, you are eligible if you are taking time away from your job in order to address:

  • your own “serious health condition” 
  • the “serious health condition” of a covered family member
  • to care for a new child, to care for a wounded service member in your family
  • to address particular circumstances arising from a covered family member’s deployment or call to active duty in the armed forces.

How much leave can I take?

FMLA allows you to take family leave, medical leave, or a qualifying exigency leave, or any combination of these, for a total of 12 weeks in a year. Confused? Let us explain in layman’s terms. If you are on family or medical leave or if you are away from work for up to 12 weeks in a year, your job will be protected. You can thus safely take a break to focus on yourself and your family, then come back to work after!

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