Family and Medical Leave Act: Everything You Need to Know
FMLA is a law designed by the federal government, but there are also other states that provide better medical leave for employees.8 min read
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
Family and Medical Leave Act (or FMLA) is the law upheld by the federal government that that grants covered employees the ability to be off work for a period of time while dealing with certain medical issues that are either affecting them or their family members.
With this said, FMLA does not allow employees to take off work whenever they please. Even if an employee is dealing with some sort of illness, they might not be eligible for enrollment in the Family and Medical Leave Act. In general, FMLA is for families that have a new child in the home.(either through birth, adopt, or foster care). FMLA is a law designed by the federal government, but there are also other states that provide better medical leave for employees.
A Closer Look at FMLA
Under the FMLA, an employee is permitted to take off up to 12 unpaid work weeks without fear that they could lose their job. Even though work leave is unpaid, FMLA mandates that business owners still offer the same health benefits to employees whether they are in work or out of work.
Applying for FMLA
If a business owner who employs people meets specific FMLA requirements, they must comply with this law. All public agencies, including schools and government entities on the local, state, and federal level, must comply with FMLA regulations. If it is a private entity, FMLA kicks in for businesses with 50 or more employees and a minimum of 20 unpaid work weeks must be offered throughout the year.
Eligibility for FMLA
An employee is not eligible for FMLA benefits until said employees has worked at least one full year and 1,250 or more hours out of that year-long period. The employee must also live within a 75 mile radius of their place of employment.
Qualifying Situations for FMLA Leave
- The employee or one of the employee’s family members is suffering from a dire medical condition.
- The employee has to care for the family member with the medical condition.
- The employee is caring for an adopted child or foster care child. FMLA may be accepted by an employee within one year of the child being born or being placed in the home. FMLA leave could also begin before the child is in the home, for reasons such as prenatal care or preparing the house for the foster child or adopted child. In some cases, the two parents could accept less leave if they work for the same company.
- A serious health condition is defined as a chronic illness, inpatient treatment, or the inability to engage in routine daily tasks for more than three days.
- FMLA only covers specific family members. Such family members include spouses, children, and parents. Examples of family members who are not covered include, in-laws, grandparents, siblings, and domestic partners of both the opposite sex and same sex.
- FMLA also only covers specific activities. Such activities could include setting up child care, getting counseling, serving military duty, or spending time with a loved one who is going to be deployed.
What Every Employee Needs to Know About FMLA
- There are different kinds of paid leave, including paid leave for sick days or vacation days. Employers are under no legal obligation to provide this sort of paid leave for their employees. In some instances, certain employers make their employees use up the remainder of their paid leave before FMLA kicks in.
- Working for someone does not automatically entitle an employee to FMLA.
- Under FMLA, employers are allowed to get a medical certification from the health care provider to verify the health condition is authentic. In fact, the Department of Labor urges employers to obtain this certificate within the first fifteen day of an employee asking for FMLA.
- An employer is also permitted to ask the employee to provide them with a medical certificate from their health care provider. If the employer asks for this information, the certificate must be provided within 15 days.
- According to the Department of Labor, an employer can also contact the health care provider themselves to confirm the legitimacy of the health condition.
- Under FMLA regulations, employers must offer employees their job again once they return from their FMLA leave. The Department of Labor specifically states, "An employee must be restored to the employee's original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment."
- What the term “equivalent” refers to is not always clear, but in general if an employee leaves their job, they should be offered the same job or something similar once they return from their sick leave.
- Although FMLA is provided at the federal level, the majority of states in the U.S. provide their own versions of family and medical leave laws. These versions typically offer better quality coverage than FMLA.
- Because the laws regarding FMLA are so nuanced and intricate, if you plan to take this kind of leave, it is necessary to acquire as much information regarding it as possible.
- In a family member of the employee has gotten seriously ill or injured during active military duty, employees are permitted to take a maximum of 26 weeks of leave.
- If your job position is eliminated when you are on FMLA leave (and not eliminated because you left temporarily) you don’t have the right to be reinstated. For example, if there is a layoff in the company or your employer eliminates an entire department for reasons unrelated to you, you no longer have entitlements to the job you once had that no longer exists. If the employer terminates the job position because you left, that is considered retaliation.
- Another way your employer could refuse a reinstatement of your position is if you are a part of the top 10% of employees with the highest salaries and you live with 75 miles of your place of work.
- Lastly, an employee is not obligated to grant you reinstatement of your job if it would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the business.
- FMLA does cover specific family members such as children, but if the child in question is over 18, the only way they could be covered is because they are “incapable of self-care” (for example, suffering from a severe disability that makes it impossible for them to do things on their own).
Setting up the One Year Period
The year dedicated to fixed leave can be determined by the employer and the employer can set up the calendar year. This leave year could be based off of something such as the anniversary of the employee’s first work day or the fiscal year. The one year period could also be selected on the date that the FMLA begins. FMLA also does not necessarily mean paid leave is going to be offered.
If you are attending therapy sessions prescribed by your health care provider, FMLA will cover the treatment so long as they are deemed medically necessary. While an employer cannot require you to prove your medical condition, the employer can ask you to provide a certificate of your medical condition. If you don’t provide your employer with a medical certificate, the employer may have the right to end your leave sooner than what was originally agreed upon. However, once you provide them with a medical certificate, your employer cannot do this.
Limitations on What an Employee can and cannot do on FMLA Leave
Aside from any policies your employer has outlined regarding your employment, your employer does not have the right to dictate what you can and cannot do on your FMLA leave. If you were dishonest about the reasons for your leave or did not provide adequate proof (the medical certificate), FMLA regulations will not protect you. If you are an eligible employee and FMLA covers your employer, said employer does not have the right to deny your FMLA leave request. However, you do need to comply with all FMLA regulations and confirm you have not already used your one year leave period.
Continued Health Insurance
Any company that offers group health coverage must also offer the health coverage to employees while they are on leave. Should you decide to retire from your job position while you are still on leave, the company that employed you can request reimbursements for any health care premiums that were paid for you. If the reason you can’t return to work is because of the serious health condition, your employer is not permitted to do this.
Scheduling and Notice Requirements
If you plan on taking FMLA leave, you must provide your employer with one month’s notice (if your leave is foreseeable). If it isn’t foreseeable, you must provide notice of your leave as soon as possible. For example, if you have a medical emergency, you need to inform your employer at the earliest chance you get. Sometimes, people want to take leave in portions rather than all at once. This is permitted by the FMLA if you must care for a wounded or sick family member of the military, tend to your own health issues, or care for the health of a seriously injured or ill spouse, parent, or child. There are also qualifying exigencies that permit certain cases of intermittent leave. As far as welcoming a new child into the home through birth or adoption, an employer is not obligated to grant intermittent leave.
A Quick Word about Bonuses
If you are about to receive a bonus right before taking off for FMLA leave, your employer cannot withhold or deny the bonus. However, you employer also doesn’t have to count your time off as a part of your bonus.
Get Legal Help if You Are Having Issues with Getting Family and Medical Leave Act
There may come a point in life when it is absolutely essential for you to care for your health or the health of a loved one. If your boss has fired you for doing this, deferral protective leave is being violated and you have every right to recruit the assistance of a legal expert.
The United Sates and Maternity Leave
There countries in the world do not have a paid maternity leave law: Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. Countless powers are routinely granted to the private sector in the United States and many assume that private companies would take care of this issue. The reality is however, that most companies don’t offer paid leave for families purely because they are not under any obligation to do so.
Women routinely end up in job positions that do not provide them with paid leave. In some instances, companies like Google and Facebook have implemented extremely beneficial policies, but in most cases companies don’t offer this sort of leave. During Obama’s term, the former President tried to get more states to come up with their own family-leave laws and incentive this activity with two billion dollars. Eventually, Obama signed something to ensure that parents could have up to six weeks of paid leave when they welcomed a new child into the home or had to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Some states have since implemented their own paid leave policies, but the threat women face of experiencing a cut in their wages makes them not want to take as much time off of work.
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