Family and work demands can take a toll on your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. When major life events affect your ability to work, you may find yourself asking your employer for time off. Also known as FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that permits eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave a year for qualified medical and family reasons. If you’re an employee facing a medical or family crisis, you job may be protected under the FMLA.
History of the FMLA
Passed on August 5, 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act entitle eligible employees unpaid time off for family and medical reasons. Before the FMLA came along, employees were at risk of losing their jobs when a serious illness or injury occurred that resulted in a week or more of time off work. Many times, women would lose their jobs when they took off time to recover after giving birth.
Women who choose to go back to work too early endangered their health in order to protect their income. The Act allowed employees to more easily manage their work and family responsibilities by taking unpaid, temporary leave under certain circumstances. The Act also aimed to serve the nation’s best interest by preserving the integrity of families.
To be eligible for leave under the FMLA, employees must have a valid reason for requesting time off. Some of the most common reasons for leave include the birth of a son or daughter, for foster care placement or adoption of a son or daughter, or to care for a newborn. You may also be eligible for leave if you have to care for a child, parent, or spouse with a serious health condition, to care for your own serious health condition, or to transition you or your spouse when called to active duty.
FMLA eligibility is typically determined at the time of leave. If an employee would like to take leave to handle family or medical responsibilities, he or she must meet certain requirements to be deemed eligible. First, the employee must have worked for the same employer for at least one year. The employee must also have worked at least 1,250 hours during that 12 month period prior to the FMLA leave. To be eligible for leave, the employer must employ at least 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the workplace.
The FMLA also applies to only some employers. This includes local, state, and federal employers in public agencies and local education agencies (schools). It also includes private sector employers who have a minimum of 50 employees who have worked at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding year. This includes joint employers as well as successors of covered employers. If your employer does not meet these coverage guidelines, the FMLA may not apply.
It can be difficult to take unpaid leave if you have little or no other means of income coming into your household while you’re away from work. In some instances, you may get paid during FMLA leave depending on your company policies. An employee may request or an employer may require you to use paid leave as part of your FMLA leave. This alternative leave option allows you to use some of your paid vacation or sick time to cover your leave which allows you to still get income while away. If your employer doesn’t offer these benefits, consider taking short-term or long-term disability to cover your absence.
Maintaining health benefits is paramount for employees forced to take family or medical leave. This is why the FMLA requires a covered employer to maintain group health insurance coverage for an employee on leave under the same terms that the employee would have if he or she continued to work. In some circumstances, the employee will have to pay his or her share of health insurance premiums. There are some exceptions. An employer is not under obligation to maintain health benefits for an employee under FMLA if the employee informs the employer that he or she will not be returning to work at the end of the leave period.
Once an employee has returned from FMLA leave, the employer must restore the employee’s original job or an “equivalent” job, meaning a job that is virtually the same to the original job in terms of wages, benefits, and other types of employment terms and conditions. In rare situations, an employer may refuse to reinstate a salaried “key” employee by notifying the employee in writing. The employer must let the employee know the reasons why his or her “key” status has resulted in a denial of job restoration.
There are times when employers may knowingly violate or misinterpret the law to deny employees FMLA coverage. This may occur when an employer fails to recognize a serious health condition. FMLA does not cover minor illnesses such as a cold, but they may cover a more serious illness that develops from a cold, such as pneumonia. An employer may also discipline an employee for too many absences. If an employer has a “no fault” absence policy, every absence is counted against the employee. However, employers cannot legally count FMLA absences against an employee if the employee is deemed eligible for leave.
When looking into the future of the FMLA, you can likely count on more changes in regulations and enforcement. These changes will reveal a movement towards stronger employee’s rights to both family and medical leave. Of course, there will always be employers who choose to violate this Act which can make it difficult for employees to properly balance their work and family obligations. If you believe that your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act are being violated by your employer, take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. Consult with an employment law attorney to determine if you and your employer are covered under the FMLA and how you should proceed.