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What You Should Know about FMLA

Gay couple welcoming a baby to their family while on FMLA leave

When major life events occur, like welcoming a baby or child to the family or caring for a loved one with a serious illness, many people need to take a temporary leave from work. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was designed to protect a person’s employment and health insurance during the extended absence.

Here are some key facts on FMLA eligibility, rights and responsibilities.

What is FMLA?

It is a federal law that requires certain employers to give eligible employees job-protected time off per year to handle major life events such as a serious illness, a birth or adoption of a child, or a call to active military duty.

When eligible employees return to work, employers are required to return them to the same job or one nearly identical to it.


Who is eligible for FMLA?

For your employment to be protected under FMLA, you must have worked for your employer:

  • for at least 12 months, although not necessarily 12 months in a row
  • for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before you take leave
  • at a location that has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your worksite. (Airline flight attendants and flight crews are subject to special eligibility requirements.)


How long can an eligible employee be on family medical leave?

FMLA job protection grants up to 12 weeks of family medical leave per 12-month period. 

The exception to this rule is when an eligible employee is caring for a covered military service member with a serious injury or illness and the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).  In this case, 26 weeks are granted in a 12-month period.


Does the time on FMLA need to be consecutive?

No.  Family medical leave can be taken on a continuous or intermittent (periodic) basis within a 12-month period.


What are the eligible reasons for taking family medical leave?

Employee eligibility is based on these three circumstances:

  1. Serious illness or health condition of your own or a covered family member
  2. Bonding for the expansion of a family via birth, adoption or foster care
  3. Military deployments or care for a covered service member


Who is a covered family member?

Under the federal FMLA regulations, a covered family member is defined as:

  • A spouse – husband or wife including legal same-sex marriages (varies by state)
  • A parent – biological, adoptive, step, foster, or any person who stood “in loco parentis” while you were a minor
  • A child – biological, adopted, step, foster, legal ward, or an individual for whom you stand “in loco parentis”

Family members who are not covered include siblings, in-laws, grandparents.

However, be sure to check your specific state laws as some have a broader definition of a covered family member.


Do you get paid for FMLA leave?

Your family medical leave time off is unpaid. You may also be required to use any accrued and available paid time off concurrently to substitute unpaid leave for paid leave.

There are several states, including California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York, that have passed Paid Family Leave laws. View the current U.S. Paid Family Leave Programs.

If your state does not offer paid leave, you can also leverage other insurance policies you may have through work.

(Note: in order to use these policies, you have to be enrolled before the life event occurs)


What happens to employee benefits during an FMLA leave?

For any family medical leave, your employer is required to continue your health insurance coverage.  However, if you pay into your benefits (your employer does not cover them 100%) you may be responsible for paying your premiums during that time.  There are a few options for how premium payments can be collected, which you should discuss as soon as possible.

There may be benefits that are suspended during your FMLA absence, so be sure to speak to your employer for more details.  As you return to work, just as your position is reinstated at the same level, so should all your benefits.


What employers are covered by FMLA?

FMLA covered employers are:

  • private companies with at least 50 employees
  • government agencies
  • elementary schools
  • secondary schools

A small business with under 50 employees is not covered by the FMLA, but may be covered by state laws.


How do I request FMLA leave?

Your Human Resources department can explain your eligibility for FMLA benefits, provide full details on how to apply, and answer questions about your rights and responsibilities.  When possible, you should give at least 30 days notice of your intention to apply for family medical leave or as soon as possible. 


For full details on employees’ FMLA eligibility, entitlements, and requirements, visit https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/


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