Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Everything You Need to Know About FMLA

Black couple in hospital looking at newborn baby
Getty Images/Ariel Skelley

Prior to 1993, when the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) was passed, an employer was not required to give leave to an employee who either was too ill to work or needed time off to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or for a seriously ill parent, child or spouse. If you took a break from work for any of these reasons, you might not have a job to go back to.

What Is the FMLA?

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12 month period for the following reasons:

  • The employee has an illness that makes him or her unable to work.
  • The employee has given birth.
  • The employee is caring for his or her newborn, newly adopted child or a child who has been placed with the employee for foster care.
  • The employee must care for his or her seriously ill spouse, child (under 18 except in certain circumstances) or parent.
  • The employee must manage the affairs of National Guard or Reserve personnel with the following qualifying exigencies:
    • Short-notice deployment
    • Military events and related activities
    • Childcare and school activities
    • Financial and legal arrangements
    • Counseling
    • Rest and recuperation
    • Post-deployment activities
    • Additional activities where the employer and employee agree to the leave
  • The employee must care for a military service member who has a serious illness or injury incurred in the line of duty while on active duty. The employer may take 26 weeks of leave in a 12 month period.

    How Are Eligible Employees Protected by the FMLA?

    If you take leave under FMLA, it protects you in the following ways:

    • When you return to work your employer must reinstate you to the same job you had before beginning your leave or to one equivalent to it.
    • Your employer must continue your group health benefits during your leave.
    • Your employer can't take away your accrued benefits, for example seniority or paid time off. You won't, however, continue to accrue these benefits while on leave.
    • An employer can't discriminate against you for taking leave under the FMLA.

    Who Is Eligible to Take Unpaid Leave Under the FMLA?

    To be eligible to take unpaid leave under the FMLA you must meet the following requirements:

    • You must work for an employer who employed 50 or more workers for at least 20 weeks of the current or preceding calendar year. These employees must work within 75 miles of your worksite.
    • You must have worked for that employer for at least 12 months, not necessarily consecutive, for a total of at least 1,250 hours during the period of time immediately preceding your leave.

    What Are Your Requirements for Taking Unpaid Leave Under the FMLA?

    If you want to take unpaid leave under the FMLA, you must inform your employer of your desire to do so. If you know in advance that you will need to take leave, i.e., "foreseeable leave," you must request it at least 30 days before you want to begin your leave. If your need to take leave is sudden, i.e., "unforeseeable leave," you must request it as soon as you can. You must follow your employer's normal and customary call-in procedures, unless you have unusual circumstances.

    • You must let your employer know how you plan to take your leave. Will you take your leave all at once? Do you need to take an intermittent leave or do you need to take leave on a reduced-leave schedule? Intermittent leave means you will take blocks of time off from work. A reduced-leave schedule means that you will work less than your regular schedule, i.e., fewer hours each week. If you are taking an intermittent leave or a reduced-leave schedule to care for a newborn or a newly adopted or foster child, you must have your employer's agreement.
    • Your employer may require you to provide medical certification if you are taking leave to care for a sick relative or if you are taking leave if your own illness prevents you from working. A doctor must only provide information related to the condition for which the employer is requesting the leave. Your direct supervisor may not contact your healthcare provider, due to concerns about privacy.
    • You must continue to pay for your share of group health benefits while on leave under the FMLA.
    • You must let your employer know about your intent to return to work after the end of your leave. You must also let your employer know if the circumstance of your leave change, for example if you must take a longer leave or if will be ready to return to work sooner than anticipated.
    • If your employer asks you do so, you must provide proof that you are ready to return to work.

    State Family and Medical Leave Laws

    Several states have their own family and medical leave laws. Your employer, if covered by FMLA and by a state family and medical leave law, must allow eligible employees to take leave under the law that offers the employees greater benefits. If you want to find out if your state has a family and medical leave law, contact your state's labor office.

    What To Do If Your Employer Fails to Abide by the FMLA?

    If your employer denies you the right to take a leave under the FMLA you can file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Standards division. Contact your local district office of the Wage and Hour Division.

    More About the FMLA

    See the U.S. Department of Labor Web Site for more detailed information on the FMLA.

    Source: Family and Medical Leave Act Advisor. U.S. Department of Labor.