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The Family & Medical Leave Act


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"Family and medical leave is a matter of pure common sense and a matter of common decency. It will provide Americans what they need most: peace of mind. Never again will parents have to fear losing their jobs because of their families."
-- President Clinton, Family and Medical Leave Act Signing, February 5, 1993

What is the Family & Medical Leave Act?

The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is legislation that entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including government employers and public schools, and private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees. The legislation is significant because it is the first federal law to allow employees the right to time off from work for family or health issues without fearing demotion or loss of employment.

Am I Eligible?

You're eligible to receive FMLA benefits if you:

    1. Work for a covered employer;
    2. Have worked for that employer for a total of 12 months;
    3. Have worked at least 1250 hours over the previous 12 months; and
    4. Work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed within 75 miles.

What Entitles Me To Take FMLA Leave?

If you're eligible, you're entitled to leave for one or more of the following reasons:

    1. The birth and care of a newborn child;
    2. Placement of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care;
    3. To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition; or
    4. To take medical leave if you are unable to work because of a serious health condition.

If you and your spouse work for the same employer, you are entitled to a combined 12 weeks of family leave for any of the above reasons. If you take leave for the birth and care of a newborn child or for placement for adoption or foster care, you must conclude the leave within 12 months of the birth or placement. Some employers will also allow leave for a death in the immediate family, although that is not written into the act.

Do I Have to Take All the Leave at Once?

No. Under certain circumstances, you can take FMLA leave in blocks of time or by reducing your normal weekly or daily work schedule. The leave can be taken intermittently whenever it is medically necessary to take care of an ill family member or if you are seriously ill and unable to work. The largest portion of leaves taken under the FMLA have been for seven or fewer days.

What Happens to My Health Benefits?

As long as you are covered under group health insurance before you take your leave, your employer is required to maintain that insurance on the same terms as if you were still working. If necessary, you will need to make arrangements to pay for your share of your health insurance premiums while you're on leave.

If, for reasons other than health or family issues, you do not return to work after the FMLA leave (such as finding another job and accepting it while on leave), your employer can collect its cost of health care during the leave.

The FMLA requires that when you return from leave, you must be restored to your original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay and benefits, as well as other terms of employment.

Also, if you take FMLA leave, you cannot lose any benefit that you earned or were entitled to before you took the leave, and the leave cannot be counted against you under a "no fault" attendance policy (with limited exceptions).

However, if your employer has a legitimate reason to terminate your employment while you are on leave (planned downsizing, poor job performance), the FMLA probably won't protect your job.

In general, employers have been supportive of employees' use of the FMLA, and are growing more supportive as awareness of the act increases. Most realize that a company's success depends on flexible, smart, committed, and loyal employees, and surveys have indicated that many employers see the FMLA and similar leave programs as advantageous, because they improve employee morale, decrease turnover and increase loyalty.

How Do I Take FMLA Leave?

If you're planning on taking FMLA leave, you are required to provide 30 days' notice to your employer, if the need is foreseeable and such notice is reasonable. Your employer may require you to provide medical certification supporting your need to take leave, as well as periodic status reports during your leave. If those requirements are not met, leave may be denied or the start of the leave may be delayed.

Your employer is responsible for giving you specific written information regarding your rights and responsibilities under the FMLA and what could happen in circumstances such as your failing to return to work after FMLA leave. It is illegal for your employer to prevent you from exercising the rights granted you under the FMLA.

What if I Don't Qualify for the FMLA?

If you don't qualify for FMLA (for example, your employer doesn't have 50 employees), there are other options.

Many smaller businesses have developed arrangements with employees to take leave without pay.

Even if your employer can't guarantee you your position when you return, you can continue to receive your medical benefits through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, more commonly known as COBRA. This act protects your health and insurance benefits even if you are terminated or move to another job elsewhere.

Of course, the FMLA is not the only way to take leave. The FMLA encourages employers to provide more generous leave rights, and many employers have leave policies that go beyond what's covered by the FMLA under a collective bargaining agreement or employment benefit plan, giving even more flexibility.

You can also combine options, such as taking FMLA time and disability, or combine FMLA leave with vacation time that you've earned. To determine the best approach to taking leave, check with your employer, and, if available, your employer's Human Resources Department.

For more information, visit the FMLA Fact Sheet on the Department of Labor homepage at: You can also contact the Department of Labor's free help line at 1-800-959-FMLA (959-3652).



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Family Medical Leave Act


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