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What is the Family Medical Leave Act?

Life happens, and sometime unforeseen events can get in the way of your career. Often, the most challenging part about taking time away from work is the specter of losing your health care or not having a job to return to.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal labor law which requires certain employers to provide employees job-protected unpaid leave while still providing health insurance during certain life events.

Covered events

Employees experiencing several different life events may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. Qualifying events include the following:

  • The birth of a child
  • Caring for a newborn child
  • Adopting or fostering a child
  • Transitioning to active military duty
  • Having a spouse called to active military duty
  • Caring for a critically-ill family member
  • Caring for an employee’s own serious illness

Some employers may need you to provide a certified medical notice to approve FMLA leave.

Covered employers

Not all employers must provide leave under the FMLA. Covered employers must meet the following criteria:

  • A covered private employer must employ 50 or more employers within a 75-mile range.
  • All public employers are covered, regardless of the number of employees.
  • All elementary and secondary schools are covered, regardless of the number of employees or whether they’re public or private schools.

Eligible employees

An employee eligible for FMLA leave must have been with their covered employer for at least a year, though not necessarily consecutively.

The employee must also have 1,250 “service hours” during the 12 months preceding the leave. The Department of Labor defines service hours as time actually worked, excluding vacation time or sick time.

FMLA protections

The FMLA is a piece of legislation designed to help employees balance both professional and family responsibilities. Laws prohibit employers from discouraging or denying an employee from using FMLA leave. Termination or other forms of retaliation against employees who use FMLA leave are also illegal.

Is FMLA right for you?

FMLA can be beneficial for many employees, but other options do exist. For shorter leaves, an employee may choose to use accrued sick time or vacation time to still receive pay while away from the job. If you’re facing a longer illness yourself, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance while you focus on recovery.

To determine which options are available to you, you may wish to seek the advice of an attorney who can lay out all your options.

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