FMLA 101

1. What is the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993 to prevent employers from terminating workers who took time off because of their and their families’ health problems.

The FMLA 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 employer may elect to use the calendar year, a fixed 12-month leave or fiscal year, or a 12-month period prior to or after the commencement of leave as the 12-month period.

The FMLA became effective on August 5, 1993, for most employers. If a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was in effect on that date, FMLA became effective on the expiration date of the CBA or February 5, 1994, whichever was earlier.

2. Who is eligible for FMLA leave?

To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:

  • Work for an employer with 50 or employees on the payroll for 20 work weeks during the current or preceding calendar year;
  • Have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months;
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months; and
  • Work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.

3. When can I take family or medical leave?

Eligible employees may take leave for the following reasons:

  • Having or adopting a baby;
  • When a child, spouse, or parent has a serious health condition; or
  • When the employee has a serious health condition.

4. How much leave can I get?

The FMLA allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected, medical leave per year. These 12 weeks may be calculated by calendar year, a fixed 12-month leave or fiscal year, or a 12-month period prior to or after the commencement of leave.

5. What is a “serious health condition?”

If you or a family member is hospitalized, that counts as a serious health condition under the FMLA. It is also a serious health condition if you or a family member has a serious physical or mental health condition that involves continuing care by a health care provider.

In general, if you or a family member has been:

  • Hospitalized;
  • Incapacitated for more than 3 consecutive days; or
  • Has gone to see a doctor or other health care provider at least once, and is under a regimen of continuing treatment by a health care provider,

the condition will be considered serious. In some circumstances, a condition that lasts less than three days, or does not require repeated doctor’s visits may qualify as a “serious health condition.”

6. Can an employer require an employee to use vacation along with (or at the same time as) FMLA leave?

You may be able to use vacation time as part of a medical leave. However, your employer may “stack” your FMLA and vacation time. For example, if you take 2 weeks of paid vacation as medical leave, you will still be entitled to 10 more weeks of unpaid leave.

7. Will time off, due to a work injury, count as FMLA leave?

If a worker is injured on-the-job, his time off may count as FMLA time. FMLA leave and workers’ compensation disability can run concurrently, provided the employer gives written notice that the leave will be counted as FMLA leave.

8. Can I take intermittent FMLA leave?

Yes. When medically necessary, leave can be taken in blocks of time. These blocks can consist of weeks, days, even hours. This can be helpful for doctor’s appointments, or when a medical treatment (such as chemotherapy) requires recovery time.

9. Do I have to prove that I have a serious medical condition?

If you are taking FMLA leave, your employer may request certification by a doctor or other health care provider.

This certification must include:

  • A description of the serious health condition;
  • The date the condition began, or treatment became necessary; and
  • The expected duration of the condition or treatment.

A sample certification has been attached to this booklet.

10. Will I get my job back when I return to work after FMLA leave?

When you return to work, your employer must give you either the job you had when you left work or a position that is equivalent (same pay, working conditions, seniority).

However, if your job would have been eliminated, downgraded, or you would have been laid off if you had not taken leave, you would not be entitled to the same or equivalent position when you return. There is also a exception for highly compensated, “core” employees.

11. What happens to my health insurance while I am on FMLA leave?

An employer must continue to pay for your health insurance during FMLA leave, as it normally would. If an employee usually contributes a portion of the health insurance premium, he will be required to continue making the usual payments while on leave.

However, if an employee does not return to work after 12 weeks, the employee can stop making health insurance payments on his behalf. If, while on leave, an employee tells his doctor that he does not intend to return to work after FMLA leave, the employer can stop paying the premium. Finally, if an employee’s job is eliminated while he is on leave, an employer can stop paying health insurance premiums at the time when the employee’s job would have been terminated.

12. Will taking FMLA leave affect seniority?

No. When a worker returns to his job, he is entitled to the same seniority he had before leave. However, he is not entitled to earn seniority during FMLA leave.