Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Last Updated: October 20, 2020

Written by the Open Caregiving Team. Editorial review by Joyce O. Murphy RN, MSN.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to handle family and medical circumstances. They are able to keep their health benefits and job throughout and after the leave period.

How does the Family and Medical Leave Act work?

The Family and Medical Leave Act ensures that people with a serious illness or caring for a seriously ill family member get unpaid leave without losing their job or health benefits. FMLA also takes into account an employer’s needs. Thus, FMLA eligibility depends on the company and office size, and how long an employee has worked there.

Who can take FMLA leave?

Individuals are eligible for FMLA if:

  • They have worked at their current company for at least 12 months or they’ve worked over 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.
    • They must work at a company that has 50 or more employees in their office, or within a 75-miles radius of the office.
  • All US government employees and teachers qualify for FMLA regardless of hours worked or size of their office, branch, or school.

Individuals are not eligible for FMLA if:

  • They have worked at their current company for less than 12 months, or worked less than 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.
  • They work for a company or location with less than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius.

Read more about FMLA eligibility on the U.S. Department of Labor website.

When can I use FMLA leave?

If you qualify under FMLA, you can take 12 weeks of leave in a row. Or you can take it intermittently as needed in any 12-month period. You can only take leave to care for someone else if they are your child, parent (in-laws do not count), legal spouse, or “in loco parentis.” This means you are responsible for a child, even though you may not be related.

The acceptable reasons to take leave under the FMLA are:

  • A Serious Health Condition where you or an immediate family member:
    • Is in the hospital or other in-patient medical facility.
    • Cannot work for more than 3 days and need continuous treatment because of medical issues.
    • Has a chronic disease that requires treatment at least twice a year.
    • Is pregnant and needs to take leave for preparation, appointments, and occasional rest.
  • Military Family Leave
    • You may take leave under the FMLA for conditions related to former military deployment. You may also take leave to care for an immediate family member suffering from a serious injury or illness related to military deployment.
  • Birth of a Child
    • Outside of taking leave during a pregnancy (or adoption period), both men and women may take leave under FMLA. This is to care for a newborn (or adopted child) within the first 12 months of birth. This leave must be in one continuous block of time under FMLA.

Will I still get paid if I take FMLA time off?

No, employees do not get paid under the FMLA. Your employer must continue your health benefits and start paying you right away when you return to work. Your employer cannot use your FMLA leave against you when considering promotions, or in any other detrimental ways.

How much notice should I give my employer before taking FMLA?

If you take FMLA leave for a predetermined reason (like surgery or pregnancy), give your company at least 30 days advance notice. When you have less than 30 days warning that you will need to take FMLA leave, let your company know as soon as you find out.

When you notify your company, give them enough information to determine if the FMLA covers your request. If you do not give your employer the proper notice, the FMLA may not cover you. Continue reading about employee notice best practices on the Department of Labor website.

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