Enacted in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires certain employers to provide unpaid, job-protected leave for qualifying medical and family situations.

FMLA mandates that employees of all genders receive at least 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within 12 months of giving birth, adopting a child or becoming a foster parent. Employees affected by personal or family illnesses are also protected under FMLA.

Employees with immediate family affected by military service (e.g., called to active duty or injured in the line of duty) may take 12 to 26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave depending on the circumstances.

Employees may also receive FMLA leave leading up to a pregnancy if they suffer from a related “serious health condition” that requires inpatient medical care or ongoing treatment by a healthcare provider. This includes severe morning sickness.

However, employers can require employees use paid vacation or personal leave for any FMLA leave as long as that policy is properly communicated well in advance.

When is an Employee Covered by FMLA?

The size and location of a business determines whether an employee can claim FMLA leave. FMLA leave kicks in if the following requirements are met:

  1. The employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of where the employee’s office is based.
  2. The employee has worked at the company for more than one year (not necessarily continuously) and worked more than 1,250 hours (roughly 24 hours per week) in the previous year.

However, many states have created additional regulations that require businesses with fewer than 50 employees to offer paid and medical leave and/ or guarantees these types of leave also to employees who have worked less than 1,250 hours for the company. 

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island require paid family and medical leave financed through employee-paid payroll taxes. Washington, D.C., mandates paid medical leave (but not parental leave). 

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