The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that was enacted in 1993 to ensure that employees are able to take time off from work to care for family responsibilities. The law does not govern everyone, however, nor does it govern every possible family need.
Who is Covered?
Employees of state, local and federal governmental agencies, regardless of the agency's size, are automatically covered by the Act.
Employees of any company that employs 50 or more staff members and engages in or affects interstate commerce are covered by the Act. Part-time and temporary workers are included when determining the number of people employed by a company.
In order to be eligible under the Act, an employee must have been employed for 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months.
What Types of Leave are Covered?
The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees each employee a maximum of 12 weeks leave within a calendar year for covered reasons. The leave is unpaid, but may be combined with other types of leave such as sick leave and vacation leave time. The employer must continue the employee's health benefits during the leave, and the employee may elect to postpone insurance payments until he or she returns to work.
Covered reasons include:
- birth of a child
- adoption of a child
- caring for a spouse, minor, incompetent child or parent with a serious health condition
- the employee's own serious health condition
Definition of a Serious Health Condition
Pregnancy, hospitalization or other confinement, treatment of a chronic condition, permanent long-term supervision or multiple treatments may all qualify as serious health conditions. Employees should be prepared to show medical certification of the illness or condition.
Employees are expected to provide advance notice of upcoming leave whenever possible, such as the planned adoption of a child. However, FMLA benefits may be claimed on an emergency basis if necessary.
Returning to Work
An employee who has taken leave based on the Family and Medical Leave Act is entitled to reinstatement to his or her former position or its equivalent. Pay, benefits and seniority are to be restored to their previous level. The only exception is in the case of a "key" employee, which is defined as a salaried employee in the top ten percent of paid employees within 75 mile radius. A key employee must be advised that he or she is considered such when notice of leave is given. If the decision is made not to reinstate the key employee, he or she must be notified when the decision is made.
Several states have enacted legislation that is similar to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Many of the state guidelines offer additional benefits to employees beyond those provided by the federal law. Examples of state-offered benefits include time off for school activities and organ donations. Employers are required to follow federal or state laws, whichever provide the greatest benefit to employees. An employee need not specify when taking leave whether he or she is taking federal or state leave.