It’s a typical day at the office and you are swamped with work when the phone rings. It’s your next-door neighbor calling to tell you your father has been in an accident and has been hospitalized with a broken leg. He’ll be alright but won’t be able to take care of himself for some time. 

Right then you think who will take care of him after he leaves the hospital?

Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you have the option of taking care of him and spending time with him without the fear of losing your job while you’re away from it.

The Family Medical Leave Act was signed into law in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton to balance needs of employers and employees in circumstances where employees can take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the following reasons

  • To take care of an immediate family member — specifically, a parent, spouse or child — who has a serious health condition.
  • To take care of yourself if you have a serious health condition of your own.
  • To take care of your newborn baby in the weeks after the child is born.
  • To take care of a child you’ve adopted in the weeks after the child arrives in your midst.

The purpose of the law is to protect employee jobs in these circumstances. It does not necessarily pay the employee during this time if the employee does not otherwise have paid time off (sick days, vacation, personal days).

A 2008 amendment to the FMLA law allows a covered worker to take leave if that worker’s spouse, child or parent is on active duty or called to active duty as a member of the National Guard or Reserves.

When you take a leave under the FMLA, you can do so knowing that the law requires your employer to assign you to your old job when you return or, at the very least, to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment, according to the US Department of Labor (DOL). Your employer is also required to maintain group health insurance coverage for you, assuming you had such coverage before your leave.

Employer and Employee FMLA Criteria

A “covered employer” is an employer: “who employs 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.”

Eligible employees are those who

  • Have worked for their covered employer at least a year (not necessarily consecutive), and
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately before the leave, and who
  • Work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed at the location or within 75 miles of the location.

Reception to the FMLA

This is not a perfect law and both employees and employers criticize it.

One issue is that organizations with fewer than 50 employees aren’t bound by the FMLA’s requirements but voluntarily comply. The FMLA applies to all public agencies, no matter how many employees they have. 

A prominent employer-centric issue is that the FMLA has been abused by employees who have taken the law’s reference to “serious health condition” to the extreme where even minor sickness like a sprained ankle or the common cold can get approved by HR as FMLA leave requests in fear of breaching DOL interpretations of the law. 

However, there are a few things to keep in mind about FMLA:

  • This basic description above only scratches the surface of FMLA law.
  • Details are further complicated by state and local laws.
  • Lack of knowledge can lead to costly lawsuits and FMLA cases are increasing rapidly.

As the compliance burden continues to increase for employers, all you can do is continue to seek solutions that allow you to keep up with these ever-evolving demands from our government.

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