Who Can Use FMLA Leave?
In order to take FMLA leave, you must work for a covered employer. Private employers with at least 50 employees are covered by the law. Private employers with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the FMLA, but may be covered by state family and medical leave laws. Government agencies (including local, state and federal employers) and elementary and secondary schools are covered by the FMLA, regardless of the number of employees.
If you work for a covered employer, you need to meet additional criteria to be eligible to take FMLA leave. Not everyone who works for a covered employer is eligible.
First, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months. You do not have to have worked for 12 months in a row (so seasonal work DOES count), but generally if you have a break in service that lasted more than seven (7) years, you cannot count the period of employment prior to the seven (7) year break.
Second, you must have worked for the employer for at least 1250 hours in the 12 months before you take the leave. That works out to an average of about 24 hours per week over the course of a year.
Lastly, you must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your worksite. Even if your employer has more than 50 employees, if they are spread out and there are not 50 employees within 75 miles of where you work, you will not be eligible to take FMLA leave.
Airline Flight Attendants and Flight Crew Employees have a different standard due to their non-traditional work schedules. If the prior 12 months to your need for leave, you have worked or been paid for at least 60% of your applicable monthly guarantee, and have worked or been paid for at least 504 hours, not including personal commute time, or time spent on vacation, medical or sick leave, you are eligible.
If you work for an employer that is covered by the FMLA and you are an eligible employee, you can take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave in any 12-month period for a variety of reasons, including:
Serious Health Conditions – You may take FMLA leave to care for your spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition or when you are unable to work because of your own serious health condition.
Military Family Leave – The FMLA also provides certain military leave entitlements. You may take FMLA leave for specified reasons related to certain military deployments. Additionally, you may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.
Expanding your Family - You may take FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to bond with the newborn child or for the placement of a child for adoption or foster care and to bond with that child. Men and women have the same right to take FMLA leave to bond with their child but it must be taken within one year of the child’s birth or placement and must be taken as a continuous bloc of leave unless the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave (for example, a part-time schedule).
What Can the FMLA Do For the Employee?
If you are faced with a health condition that causes you to miss work, whether it is because of your own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition, you may be able to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off under the FMLA.
If you take FMLA leave, your employer must continue your health insurance as if you were not on leave (you may be required to continue to make any normal employee contributions).
As long as you are able to return to work before you exhaust your FMLA leave, you must be returned to the same job (or one nearly identical to it). This job protection is intended to reduce stress that you may otherwise feel if forced to choose between work and family during a serious medical situation.
Time off under the FMLA may not be held against you in employment actions such as hiring, promotions or discipline. You can take FMLA leave as a single block of time or in smaller blocks of time (alternating with a spouse to take care of a new addition to the family). If you need intermittent bits of leave (physical therapy, etc.), you must do so with the coordination of your employer…the employer deserves minimum disruption.
FMLA leave is unpaid leave. However, if you have sick time, vacation time, personal time, etc. saved up with your employer, you may use that leave time (this is at the discretion of the employer…some employers require that you use paid time off prior to taking FMLA…this is the employer’s right). When you use paid leave for an FMLA-covered reason (whether at your request or your employer’s), your leave time is still protected by the FMLA.
How do I request FMLA Leave?
To take FMLA leave, you must provide your employer with appropriate notice (they may require Medical Certification). If you know in advance that you are going to need FMLA leave, you are required to give 30 days’ notice. If you do not know in advance, you must contact your employer as soon as possible. When my sister had a massive heart attack on a Thursday evening, I was asked to contact her employer the following morning. You do not need to tell your employer your diagnosis but you must state that your leave is due to an FMLA-protected condition.
You will need to inform your employer if your need for FMLA changes while you are out (if your doctor determines that you may return to work earlier than expected). Your employer may require periodic updates.
When you receive your eligibility notice from your employer (if/once the FMLA leave is granted), you will also receive your rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. This notice will include the following:
***A definition of the 12-month period the employer uses to keep track of FMLA usage;
***Whether you will be required to provide medical certification from a health care provider;
***Your right to use paid leave;
***Whether the company will require you to utilize paid leave;
***Your right to maintain health benefits and whether you will be required to make premium payments;
***Your right to return to your job at the end of your FMLA leave.
I hope that this short but ‘sweet’ explanation helps those of you with questions about the FMLA…if you are a business owner reading this, then you may have already been faced with FMLA situations….a key employee that has a child with cancer, a pregnancy, military leave for a family that has a family member injured in the line of duty….a myriad number of reasons. The reporting requirements can be daunting, therefore, if anyone has a need for further explanation, please contact me, Rosanne Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 484-798-1236.