What Are FMLA Eligibility Requirements?

FMLA eligibility requirements cover leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To receive benefits under the FMLA, an employee must have been employed with a company for 12 months, have worked at least 1,250 hours in that time period, and the employer must employ 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite.

The FMLA is a federal law that ensures certain employees will get up to 12 work-weeks of unpaid leave each year without the threat of job loss. Employers can suspend benefits like paid time off (PTO) for employees on leave, but they cannot deny group benefits that are provided by the employer. This is very important for those who are taking leave due to health issues.

Before they decide to take FMLA leave, employees are able to use paid time off, parental leave, or any other time-off benefits. This is usually beneficial for employees as it means they can still bring in some income.

After a request for FMLA leave, an employer must give FMLA eligibility notice within five business days. Along with this notice, they must provide a notice outlining FMLA-related rights and responsibilities to employees who are approved for time-off. It must also include the employee's right to full reinstatement once they return.

FMLA Eligibility

Who Is Covered?

Not every employee is eligible for FMLA leave. The following specific requirements apply:

  • An employee must have been employed with the company for 12 months. These do not need to be consecutive, but breaks of seven years or more are not counted unless they were spent on military obligations.
  • An employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the leave. This does not include vacations, holidays, sick days, or any other day where an employee was not working.
  • An employee must work for an employer who employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite for private sector organizations. Public sector organizations do not have to adhere to this rule.
  • An employee can only take FMLA leave for family related matters that involve their spouse, child, or parent.
  • An employee cannot be an elected official at any level of government.

Medical certification may be requested where serious health conditions prevent employees from doing their essential job functions. If you are unable to provide this information, your leave may be cut short. If you are able to provide medical certification, the employer cannot request you come back to work, even if the offer is part-time or light work.

Can I Lose My Job Under FMLA?

FMLA is a modified version of the employment-at-will doctrine that governs many employee-employer relationships in the United States. Therefore, it is similar to other labor laws, such as ones that prohibit discrimination based on protected status. Employment-at-will is a doctrine that allows employers and employees the right to terminate their relationship at any time, for any reason.

Without FMLA, an employee who takes up to 12 weeks off may face termination, but with FMLA, those who take leave for a qualifying reason must be reinstated to their previous position with the same pay grade, benefits, and responsibilities. Employers can sometimes deny reinstatement to high-paid executives who are considered to be important employees.

An employee cannot be fired if they file a complaint against their organization for violating FMLA. If an employee was eligible for a bonus, an employer cannot use FMLA leave as an excuse not to pay out the bonus. However, the employer does not have to include the leave period as time accrued toward a bonus or seniority.

Reasons for FMLA Leave

Someone may request FMLA leave for the following reasons:

  • To prepare for the birth of a child
  • To care for a newborn child
  • When a child is being placed through a foster care or adoption program
  • To care for a spouse, child (some limitations apply for children over the age of 18), or parent (not including in-laws) with a serious medical condition
  • To care for their own health condition
  • To transition a spouse or child that is called to active military duty

An employee can use FMLA on top of parental or pregnancy leave, although they do not need to run concurrently. Pregnancy itself can be considered a serious health condition, especially if ordered to go on bed rest.

Filing an FMLA Claim

FMLA-related claims are investigated and enforced by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD). It is unlikely that an employer would fire a qualifying worker on unpaid leave, knowing that they will likely get caught. It is more likely that they violate the act in subtle ways. These can include:

  • Holding employees accountable on performance reviews for work that was not completed during their leave, which could result in termination.
  • Reinstating an employee in a lesser position.
  • Not giving a qualifying employee their request for leave.
  • Terminating employees without cause before the leave begins.

Employees can receive lost wages, bonuses, benefits, or other compensation that is attributable to the violation. If an employer denies a valid request but does not fire the employee, he or she may be eligible for expenses related to the reason for the request, such as medical bills.

If a violation resulted in termination or demotion, an employee is entitled to a position with equal or greater responsibility. Any fees incurred by the employee for legal action must be paid in full by the employer. Sometimes, this is unnecessary as the employer may choose to settle instead of going to court.

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