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Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member who is ill or injured. This includes both biological and adoptive family members. This blog will provide an overview of the FMLA and explain the eligibility requirements. We will also discuss the different types of leave covered by the FMLA. Finally, we will provide tips on preparing for and taking FMLA leave, including advice on dealing with any potential employer questions.

What Is It?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law in the United States that provides certain employees with job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. The FMLA was enacted in 1993 to help balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of employees to take time off for their own health needs or to care for family members.

Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within 12 months for the following reasons:

  • The birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child
  • To care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • The employee’s serious health condition makes the employee unable to perform their job

If an employee is eligible for FMLA leave and takes the full 12 weeks of leave, their employer must provide them with the same or an equivalent position upon their return to work. The employer must also continue to provide health insurance benefits during the leave period as long as the employee pays their share of the premiums.

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Who Is Eligible?

Eligible employees work for a covered employer and meet certain criteria. To be eligible, an employee must:

  • Work for a covered employer, which includes private-sector employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, public agencies, and public or private elementary or secondary schools.
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months (which do not have to be consecutive).
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the start of the leave.
  • Work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

It’s important to note that the FMLA does not cover all employers or employees. Some employers may be exempt if they have fewer than 50 employees or are not a public agency or school. Additionally, some employees may only be eligible if they meet the above mentioned criteria.

The Different Types of Leave Covered

The FMLA covers several types of leave that employees may need to take to attend to their or a family member’s health or care needs. Here are the different types of leaves that the FMLA covers:

  1. Birth, Adoption, or Foster Care Placement of a Child: An employee may take FMLA leave for the birth of their child or to care for a newborn child. They may also take leave for adoption or foster care placement of a child, as well as to bond with the child during the first 12 months after placement.
  1. Care for a Family Member with a Serious Health Condition: An employee may take FMLA leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. This includes situations that require inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.
  1. Employee’s Own Serious Health Condition: Employees may take FMLA leave if they have a serious health condition that makes them unable to perform their job. This includes situations that require inpatient care, continuing treatment by a health care provider, or conditions that result in periods of incapacity of more than three consecutive calendar days.
  1. Military Family Leave: The FMLA also provides certain types of leave related to military service. For example, an employee may take leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent who is a covered service member with a serious injury or illness. Additionally, employees may take “qualifying exigency” leave related to the active duty or call to active duty of a spouse, child, or parent member of the National Guard or Reserves.
  1. Military Caregiver Leave: An employee may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness, including a physical or mental condition, incurred in the line of duty on active duty.

Not all types of leave are available to all employees, as eligibility depends on the specific circumstances and the employee’s relationship with the family member. However, these different types of leave demonstrate the range of situations that the FMLA covers, providing eligible employees with valuable job protections and leave rights.

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The Rights and Protections Offered by the FMLA for Employees Taking Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides important job protections and leave rights to eligible employees who need to take time off for certain family and medical reasons. Here are some of the rights and protections offered by the FMLA for employees taking leave:

  1. Job Protection: Eligible employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to job protection. This means they must be restored to the same or an equivalent position when they return from leave. Employers cannot retaliate against employees for taking FMLA leave or interfere with their exercise of FMLA rights.
  1. Continuation of Health Benefits: During FMLA leave, employers must continue to provide health insurance benefits to eligible employees as if they were still working. The employer must continue to pay its portion of the premium, and the employee is responsible for paying their share. Suppose the employee does not return to work after FMLA leave. In that case, the employer may be able to recover the premiums it paid for maintaining the employee’s health coverage during the leave.
  1. Accrual of Benefits: During FMLA leave, eligible employees continue to accrue seniority, vacation time, sick leave, and personal days as if they were still working. This means that when they return from leave, they will not have lost any of the benefits they had accrued before taking leave.
  1. Intermittent or Reduced Schedule Leave: In some cases, employees may need to take FMLA leave on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis. For example, an employee may need to take time off for medical treatments or to care for a family member with a chronic illness. The FMLA allows eligible employees to take leave in this way, as long as it is medically necessary and the employee provides the employer with notice and medical certification.
  1. Protection from Retaliation: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who take FMLA leave. Employers cannot discipline, fire, or take any other adverse action against employees for taking FMLA leave. If an employee believes their employer has retaliated against them for taking FMLA leave, they can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor or file a lawsuit.

Tips and Best Practices on How to Request FMLA Leave

Before requesting FMLA leave, it’s important to understand your rights and protections under the law. This includes knowing whether you are eligible for FMLA leave, how much leave you are entitled to, and what types of situations qualify for FMLA leave. 

Employees must provide notice of their need for FMLA leave as soon as possible. The notice should include the reason for the leave and the estimated duration of the leave. If the need for FMLA leave is unexpected or unforeseeable, notice should be given as soon as practicable. Your employer may have specific policies or procedures for requesting FMLA leave. It’s important to follow these policies to ensure that your request is processed promptly and efficiently.

If you request FMLA leave for a serious health condition, you must provide medical certification from a healthcare provider. The certificate should include information about the condition, the expected duration of the leave, and any restrictions or limitations on your ability to work. If your situation changes while you are on FMLA leave (for example, if your expected return date changes), keep your employer informed. This will help ensure a smooth transition back to work and prevent misunderstandings or confusion.

Keep copies of communications with your employer about your FMLA leave, including requests for leave, any medical certification, and correspondence with your employer while on leave. This can help protect you in case of any disputes or misunderstandings.


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that enables employees to take a leave of absence for reasons related to their family or medical care. If you are an employee eligible for FMLA leave, it is important to understand the law to ensure that you take the leave in the most effective and legally compliant way possible. At O’Hara Law Firm, their attorneys have years of experience defending employees against claims made under the FMLA. They can help you understand your rights and navigate the complex legal system so that you can take the leave you need and return to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. Contact them today to learn more about their services and how we can help you protect your rights under the FMLA.

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