Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that lets employees who are covered by the Act have extended time away from work The time away is used to handle certain family or medical needs. Many states have similar laws that may provide additional coverage. An attorney with experience in employment law can tell you if you or your business are covered by the FMLA, and what the exact requirements of the Act are.

Covered Employees

Not all employers are required to provide every employee with family or medical leave. The federal law states that an employer is required to provide eligible employees with leave if the employer is either:

  • a state, local, or federal governmental agency; or
  • a private business engaged in, or affecting, interstate commerce, that employed fifty or more employees in twenty or more weeks in the current or prior calendar year.

Virtually every business in the U.S. engages in, or affects, interstate commerce. The fifty or more employees requirement includes everyone on the employer’s payroll, including part-time employees, employees on approved leave, and leased employees.

An employee who works for a covered employer is eligible for leave if he or she worked for the employer for at least twelve months and for at least 1,250 hours over the twelve months immediately preceding the need for leave. The employee must also work at a worksite in the United States, or a U.S. territory, at which the employer has at least fifty employees within seventy-five miles.

The requirements are defined by federal law. Laws in your state may have other requirements that provide leave to more, or different, employees.

Leave Provided

A covered employer must provide eligible employees with a maximum of twelve weeks of leave. The leave may be unpaid, but it may be combined with accrued paid leave (such as vacation or sick leave).

An eligible employee may take leave:

  • for the birth, adoption, or placement of a child;
  • to care for a spouse, minor or incompetent child, or parent who has a serious health condition; or
  • to handle the employee’s own serious health condition that makes him or her unable to perform his or her job.

A serious health condition is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or condition that involves:

  • hospital care;
  • absence from work, plus continuing treatment;
  • pregnancy;
  • treatment for a chronic condition;
  • permanent long-term supervision; or
  • multiple treatments.

Employees may be required to provide advanced notice, if possible, and medical certification of the need for leave. An employer who provides health insurance is required to maintain coverage for an employee on leave on the same terms as if the employee had continued to work.

Returning to Work

When an employee returns from leave granted by the FMLA, he or she is entitled to be restored to his or her former job, or to an equivalent job, with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms of employment. Taking leave may not result in the loss of any benefit to which an employee was entitled before taking leave, and may not be counted against an employee under a no-fault attendance policy.

Certain employees may be denied restoration of their jobs if returning them to their former positions would result in substantial and grievous economic harm to the employer. A key employee is defined as a salaried employee who is among the highest paid ten percent of the employees within a seventy-five mile radius. An employer must notify an employee that he or she is a key employee when the employee gives notice of intent to take leave, and must notify the employee when a decision is made to deny reinstatement.


The Family and Medical Leave Act, and similar state laws, can be an immense help to employees who have important family obligations but who also need to be able to rely on steady employment. The requirements of the Act are very technical, and must be understood thoroughly by both employers and employees who may be covered. An attorney with a background in employment law can help you deal with the complexities of the Act.

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