ABCs of Employment Law: Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects eligible employees seeking to take leave for certain reasons without the fear of job loss or benefits. It can be overwhelming trying to fully understand the FMLA without an attorney well-versed in employment law at your side, but you can start with learning about the FMLA, including who is eligible and who is not. Understanding the FMLA will make it easier for you to identify if you’ve been denied rights you’re entitled to or unfairly terminated. 

What is the FMLA? 

The FMLA was enacted in 1993 with the intent to provide employees with job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. The primary goal of the FMLA is to give employees flexibility when dealing with these situations without fear of losing their job or benefits. When requesting leave, employees are typically required to provide their employers with advanced notice. Employers can request certification of the need for leave, medical documentation, and recertification as appropriate. The FMLA also covers up to 26 weeks of military family leave for service members who’ve sustained a serious illness or injury. 

Who is Eligible? 

Not all employees are eligible for FMLA leave. The categories for evaluating eligibility include: 

  1. Employer Size: The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace. Public agencies and public or private elementary and secondary schools are covered without regard to the number of employees. 
  1. Employee Eligibility: To be eligible for FMLA leave, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutively) and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave.  
  1. Reasons for Leave: Reasons for leave covered by the FMLA include the birth and care of a newborn child, adoption or foster care placement, caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition, or the employee’s own serious health condition that makes them unable to perform their job. 

What Are Employees Entitled To? 

Once an employee qualifies for FMLA leave, they are entitled to the following benefits: 

  1. Up to 12 Weeks of Unpaid Leave: Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period. The time can be used for any combination of approved reasons. 
  1. Job Protection: Employers must maintain the employee’s health benefits during their FMLA leave and reinstate them to the same or an equivalent position upon their return. 
  1. Continuation of Seniority and Benefits: An employee’s time on FMLA leave must count towards their seniority and continuation of benefits, such as life insurance or retirement. 

Common FMLA Disputes   

Disputes can arise in employee and employer relationships where FMLA benefits are not being honored. Examples of potential disputes include: 

  1. Eligibility Disputes: Sometimes, employers may dispute an employee’s eligibility for FMLA leave, leading to conflicts. This is why understanding the eligibility criteria and providing appropriate documentation is important.  
  1. Intermittent Leave Issues: Intermittent leave, where employees take leave in smaller increments, can be challenging for employers to manage, as it may disrupt workflow. Communicating openly about these needs can help prevent disputes. 
  1. Improper Denial of Leave: Employers may sometimes deny valid FMLA requests or fail to provide the required job protection and benefits. Employees should be aware of their rights and seek legal counsel if they suspect their rights are being violated.  
  1. Return-to-Work Conflicts: Disputes can arise when an employee returns from FMLA leave and faces discrimination or retaliation from their employer. The employee should pursue legal action in these cases. 

Do you have questions about the FMLA that we didn’t answer? Contact Walcheske & Luzi for expert consultation on FMLA issues, or any other area of employment law where you need legal assistance.