Navigating FMLA laws and requirements

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid, job-protected leave from work for specific family and medical reasons. Not every employer is covered by the FMLA, which means not every employee is eligible for FMLA leave. Among the businesses that are typically excluded include those with fewer than 50 employees.

But that's just the beginning of what businesses and employees need to know about the FMLA.

Employer and employee FMLA requirements

The first step to determining whether an employee is eligible for FMLA leave is to first find out if they work for a "covered" employer. What does that mean? Well, as mentioned earlier, the FMLA only covers companies with at least 50 employees (in the case of private-sector employers). Covered employers also include public agencies — such as federal and state governments — as well as private and public elementary and secondary schools.

Next, employees working for a covered employer must typically meet specific criteria:

  • The employee must have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months, but not necessarily consecutive months
  • During the 12 months before the requested leave starts, the employee must log a minimum of 1,250 hours for the same employer
  • The employee needs to work at a location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles

If employees meet all the FMLA requirements, they are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave over a period of 12 months.

Reasons an employee may qualify for FMLA leave

There are many reasons that employees choose to use FMLA leave. Some of the most common ones include:

  • A serious mental or physical health condition, or caring for a child, parent, or spouse with a serious medical condition
  • Bonding with a newborn baby, although the leave must be taken within one year of the birth
  • Bonding with an adopted child or foster child, although the leave must be taken within one year of the placement of the child

Employees also may seek to use their FMLA leave time intermittently throughout the year. An example of intermittent FMLA leave would be working a couple of half-days during the workweek or missing an hour or two at a time in order to take a chronic or severely ill child, parent, or spouse to medical appointments. Or, an employee may wish to work part-time to receive cancer treatments and to rest from the accompanying fatigue.

The FMLA leave process

While the FMLA process can vary depending on the circumstances, it often starts when an employee seeking leave contacts the employer's human resources department, which will provide the employee with the required forms for requesting FMLA leave.

The employee will also often need to visit their mental or physical health care provider to request an FMLA medical certification, which is then given to the employer. The employer then approves the leave request if it meets all the qualifying conditions. If the employer denies the request because it believes those conditions aren't met, the employee might be able to use paid time off (PTO) such as personal, sick, or vacation days.

Getting paid while on FMLA leave

Taking leave for a medical condition — whether one's own or a family member's — can be financially stressful for an employee.

That's why many choose to apply for short-term disability in tandem with FMLA. That way, they can get a percentage of their average weekly pay or their regular pay rate, depending on their company's short-term disability plan.

Employment and labor laws are always being amended and updated. If you want to keep current on the FMLA and other related issues, give Practical Law a try. Get your free trial today.

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