Federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

This article describes the details of the Family & Medical Leave Act. You can also find out how the Family & Medical Leave Act applies to you at work, or jump to a specific FMLA topic:

The Family & Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) Protections & Provisions

The purpose of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is to help strike a balance between employees’ workplace, personal, and family lives by providing FMLA-eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for particular medical and familial reasons.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) further makes it unlawful for an employer to:

  1. Interfere with an eligible employee’s right to FMLA leave
  2. Retaliate against an individual for his/her use of FMLA leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to all public and private elementary and secondary schools, all public agencies, and companies that employ 50 or more employees.  It further applies to employees who have been employed by any of the foregoing employers for at least 52 weeks and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 52 weeks preceding the leave.

Under FMLA, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for any of the following reasons:

  1. The care of a newborn son or daughter
  2. The adoption or foster-care placement of a child
  3. The care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition
  4. The employee’s own serious health condition when the condition interferes with the employee’s ability to perform at work

In addition, an employee may take job-protected leave for up to a total of 26 workweeks per year to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the service member.

In certain cases, FMLA leave may be taken on an intermittent basis rather than all at once, or the employee may work a part-time schedule.

Remedies Available Under the Family & Medical Leave Act

Under federal law, if an individual is successful at trial and it is found by a judge or jury that the individual was the victim of FMLA interference or FMLA retaliation, that individual is entitled to recover his/her back pay (lost wages) and attorney fees and costs.  Reinstatement (getting his/her old job back) is also available.

Compensatory damages (pain and suffering) and punitive damages (monetary punishment levied against the employer for discriminating) are not available through Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cases.  However, if the defendant-employer fails to prove both 1) good faith, and 2) reasonable grounds for believing it had not violated the law, “liquidated damages” are available in an amount equal to the individual’s back pay award (essentially doubling an individual’s back pay award).

Statute of Limitations

For a federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim, there is no requirement that an individual first file an administrative charge with any agency, including the Department of Labor (DOL).  Thus, an individual with an FMLA interference or FMLA retaliation claim may proceed directly to federal court.

The general statute of limitations for filing suit in federal court under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is 2 years from the date of the FMLA violation.  Filing with an administrative agency before filing in federal court, such as the Department of Labor (DOL), does not toll or lengthen this time limitation.  If the federal FMLA complaint is not filed within those 2 years, it is time-barred and the individual loses his/her FMLA interference or FMLA retaliation claim.

View the full Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) text on Wisconsin Legislative Documents.