What is FMLA?  How do I know if I qualify for it?

handsGreat question!  Let’s start with defining FMLA.  On February 5, 1993, FMLA or Family Medical Leave Act became law to provide protection for employees who needed to take leave from work for a family/medical emergency such as the birth of a child or to care for a family member who has a serious medical condition.  The leave is designed to ensure that the employee be reinstated to their same position or an equal position including pay, once leave has ended (12 weeks).  Employers could no longer hire someone else to take the position while the employee is on leave and then once the employee returns, give them another position regardless of pay or type of work being performed.  Or worse, terminate them. (There are a few exceptions to this,  such as highly paid, salaried workers or “key” employees.)

For those in the military or spouses of vets, amendments were made in 2008 and 2010 that provide more time that is protected.  Visit:   http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/2013rule/fs-military.htm for more information.

Employers must provide FMLA if they have 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius of the employee making the FMLA request.  In order to qualify for FMLA, there are four options for employers calculating the 12 month period they will use:

  • The calendar year;
  • A fixed “leave year”.  This can be based on any 12-month period, such as a fiscal year, or the anniversary of the employee starting with the company;
  • A 12-month period beginning with the date that an employee’s first FMLA leave begins; or
  • A 12-month period that goes backward from the date that an employee’s first FMLA leave begins.

Once a calendar year is defined within the company, an employee would need to have worked 1250 hours within the 12 months to qualify.  It’s also important to understand you are only paid for the leave based on whatever you have accrued in sick time or vacation time.  Once this is used up, it will be unpaid, but still protected leave.

One other item to note is that upon returning to work, if you notice you are being treated differently in comparison to other employees, this is referred to as “retaliation” and is against the law.  You will need to document how you feel you are being treated differently, by whom and for how long.  You then need to report this to your Human Resources Department so the grievance process can begin.

For more information pertaining to FMLA, please visit the Department of Labor.