An Introduction to FMLA

Your staff is what keeps your business running, but there are times when an employee may need to take time away from work. While your company may offer paid sick, vacation, or other time off as part of your benefits package, you may also be required to grant employees unpaid time off for certain reasons.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which applies to employers with 50 or more employees within 75 miles, ensures job-protected employee leave and grants up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.

Employee Eligibility and Qualifying Reasons

To be eligible for FMLA, an employee must have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months. Reasons that an eligible employee can qualify for FMLA leave include:

  • The employee’s own serious health condition
  • The birth of the employee’s child
  • Caring for a child following birth, adoption, or foster care placement
  • Caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • A qualifying exigency (urgent need) arising out of military duty (active, pre- or post- deployment) of the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent

In addition, an employee who is a close relative of a member of the military or a veteran with a serious injury or illness may also qualify for FMLA leave. In this situation, the employer must grant the employee up to a total of 26 workweeks of unpaid leave to care for the service member.

Local Leave Programs and the ADA

FMLA applies to all states, but some cities and states also have their own leave laws. Typically, these laws run concurrently with FMLA, but offer additional benefits, such as less rigorous eligibility requirements, an expanded definition of “family,” or longer periods of leave. If your business is covered by federal as well as state and/or city leave laws, you must comply with whichever law is more beneficial to the employee. You should also coordinate your leave program with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the FMLA has specific eligibility requirements and limits the leave time available, under the ADA all employees with disabilities may be eligible for leave regardless of hours worked or length of service. In addition, there are no strict time limitations on the duration of leave you must provide.

While FMLA and other leave laws offer employees flexibility to address serious family and personal situations, they can also create challenges. Therefore, it’s important to have a solid understanding of your and your employees’ responsibilities as they relate to federal and state leave laws. By working closely with your legal and/or benefits departments, your business can be in compliance and provide employees with the time they need.




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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.