Understanding FMLA – Short Guide for Employees and Employers

There are times when an employee may need to step away from work to take care of family matters. A common example is soon to be parents welcoming their new child. By law, the FMLA requires that qualified companies provide eligible employees leave with benefits. Companies, however, are not required to provide pay during this time.

It is important for employees and employers to understand when they are giving FMLA. Managers and supervisors should familiarize themselves with the FMLA and with company leave policies to ensure that they are documenting and approving employee leave requests accordingly.

FMLA Quick Guide

What is FMLA

FMLA stands for the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The act is enforced by Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division. Detailed and specific information on FMLA is available on the DOL website.

The act gives legal rights to eligible employees to take a leave of absence with benefits for up to 12 to 26 weeks. During this time, the employee’s job is protected. Employees are not compensated during their FMLA leave.

During FMLA leave, employers may still contact employees. Employees legally do not have to perform duties of their job. Also, employers do not need to hold the employee’s job role open. However, upon the employee’s return, employers must provide a position equal to the one they left.

Not all businesses are FMLA eligible. And FMLA leave does not legally require businesses pay their employees during leave. Employees who do not have the financial means to take an extended leave may not request for FMLA. As a result, employers may be risking the well-being and mental health of their employees if employees are dealing with difficult situations at home. Employers should look at other ways to support their employees by offering paid leave and support through resources.

When can employees take FMLA leave?

There are four scenarios where an employee can take FMLA leave:

  1. Employee becomes a new parent through birth of a child or adoption
  2. To care for an immediate family member (partner, spouse, next of kin) with a serious health condition or injury
  3. To care for one’s self when in serious health condition that causes the self to be unable to perform essential job functions
  4. To care for an immediate family member who is an active covered member of military with a serious health condition or injury

FMLA leave can be taken by both parents of a new child. Additionally, legally married same-sex partners are allowed to take FMLA in every state.

Employees taking FMLA leave to care for an immediate family member who is in military may be able to take up to 26 weeks of leave with benefits.

Employers may request that an employee take any outstanding vacation time before taking FMLA. Additionally, paid time off can be considered as part of FMLA time. Employers who decide to do this must notify the employee of the decision in writing a head of time.

How long is FMLA leave?

For most of the FMLA scenarios, an employee can take up to 12 weeks FMLA leave over a 12-month period. Employees leaving to care for an immediate family member who is an active military member may be given up to 26 weeks.

Employers determine the 12-month period. There are four methods of which an employer can determine the 12-month period:

  • 12-month by calendar year
  • 12 consecutive months
  • 12 months from the start of an employee’s first FMLA leave
  • 12-month period counting backwards from date that employee leaves for FMLA

Who qualifies for FMLA leave?

To qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must meet the following requirements:

  1. Employee must work for an FMLA eligible employer
  2. Employees must have been employed for at least 12 months (this does not need to be consecutively) within the last 7 years
  3. Employees must have worked for a minimum of 1250 hours

Full time and part time employees can qualify for FMLA so long as they meet the above requirements.

What is an FMLA eligible employer?

To qualify as an FMLA employer, a private sector employer must meet the following:

  • Organization must employ 50+ employees
  • Organization must operate for 20 work weeks in the current or previous year

Additionally, all local, state, federal, and education agencies and organizations qualify as FMLA eligible.

What is the process for applying?

To apply for FMLA leave, employees should take the following steps:

  1. Employee provide notice to employer 30 days in advance. It is recommended to do this in writing if possible.

Certain situations may make it impossible to provide such notice. E.g. if employee is hospitalized with a serious health condition. In these situations, 30-day notice is not needed.

Employees do not need to explicitly state that they are taking FMLA leave, they just need to state that they are leaving a which reason why. Managers and supervisors will need to recognize that an employee is requesting for FMLA leave.

2. Employer determines if employee is eligible.

3. Employer grant or deny leave request

If employers are rejecting the request, they must notify employees in writing within 2 days.

Key takeaways

  • FMLA provides employees with the right to a leave of absence with benefits when they become a parent, to care for themselves and or an immediate family member who is sick
  • Employees can take up to 12 weeks leave within an employer determined 12-month period
  • FMLA guarantees an employee benefits and job protection during their leave; it does not guarantee pay
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