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The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. It also allows eligible employees to to take up to 26 workweeks of job-protected leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness.

Employer Coverage

The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools) and private-sector employees who have 50 or more employees.

Employee Eligibility

In order for the employee to be eligible for FMLA benefits, one must: 

  • work for a covered employer
  • have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months 
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months, and
  • work at a location in the United States where at least 50 employees are employed
Leave Entitlement

A covered employer must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

  • for the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee
  • for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care
  • to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition 
  • or, if the employee's spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on active duty or call to active duty status

Spouses employed by the same employer are limited in the amount of family leave they may take for any of the qualifying reasons mentioned above to a combined total of 12 workweeks. Leave for birth and care, or placement for adoption or foster care, must conclude within 12 months of the birth or placement.

Under some circumstances, employees may take FMLA leave in seperate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason or by reducing the employee's usual weekly or daily work schedule. If FMLA leave is for birth and care, or placement for adoption or foster care, using FMLA in seperate blocks is subject to the employer's approval. 

Under certain conditions, employees or employers may choose to substitute accrued paid leave (such as sick or vacation leave) to cover some or all of the FMLA leave. This is determined by the terms and conditions of the employer's normal leave policy.

"Serious health condition" means an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves either:

  • Inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical-care facility, including any period of incapacity or subsequent treatment in connection with such inpatient care
  • Or, continuing tratment by a health care provider, which includes:
  1. A period of incapacity lasting more than three consecutive calendar days, and any subsequent treatment or period of incapacity relating to the same condition that also includes:
  • Treatment two or more times by or under the supervision of a health care provider or one treatment by a health care provider with a continuing regimen of treatment
  • Any period of incapacity related to pregnancy or for prenatal care, for treatment of a serious health condition which continues over an extended period of time, or for incapacity that is permanent or long term due to a condition for which treatment may not be effective
  • Or, any absences to receive multiple treatments for restorative surgery or for a condition that would likely result in a period of incapacity of more than three days if not treated
Maintenance of Health Benefits

A covered employer is required to keep group health insurance coverage for an employee on FMLA leave whenever such insurance was provided before the leave was taken and on the same terms as if the employee was still working. 

Job Restoration

When an employee returns to work from FMLA leave, the employee must return back to its original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay and benefits. Using FMLA cannot result in the loss of an employement benefit that was earned before using FMLA leave. 

Notice and Certification

Employee Notice

Employees that want to use FMLA are required to provide a 30 day notice in advance if FMLA is planned. If FMLA leave is unexpected, the employee must provide notice as soon as possible. Employees need to provide enough information for an employer to determine whether the FMLA leave may apply to the leave request.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division