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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): What Employers Need to Know

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted in 1993 with the goal of helping employees strike a balance between family and work life. With a new administration coming into power in Washington, we may see some changes to the law in the months and years to come, but here’s an overview of what employers should know about FMLA leave as it stands in January 2017.

Which Employers Are Covered Under FMLA?

The FMLA applies to every employer with at least 50 employees who have worked at least 20 weeks, which do not need to be consecutive, in the current calendar year. Independent consultants do not count towards your employee tally, but part-time employees do.

 

Other organizations covered under FMLA include public agencies, such as state and federal governments as well as public school systems.

Which Employees Are Covered?

For an employee to be eligible for FMLA leave, he or she must have worked for the organization for at least 12 months before the start of leave; these months do not need to be consecutive. Only employment within the last seven years is counted, unless a break in service is (a) due to fulfillment of military obligations or (b) governed by a collective bargaining agreement or other written agreement.

 

The employee must also have worked for at least 24 hours per week in the 12 months preceding the start of leave. Finally, the employee must work for a company that employs 50 or more (see above) within 75 miles of his or her residence.

What Are the Notification Requirements?

All employers covered under FMLA must post a notice in an accessible public area outlining the rights of employees under the law. Additionally, employers must have measures in place for notifying employees of

  • their obligations under FMLA
  • whether their requests are covered under FMLA
  • the status of their requests
  • the approval or denial of their requests

 

How Long Is FMLA Leave?

Eligible employees are allowed up to 12 weeks leave in a single 12-month period to take time off for health and caretaking needs, including pregnancy and childbirth (see list below). This leave is unpaid and job-protected; employees are entitled to return to their same job or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave (see “What Happens After FMLA Leave?” below).

What Are the Accepted Reasons for FMLA Leave?

The Department of Labor has developed several scenarios under which FMLA applies, including

  • birth of a child
  • placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent – but not a parent-in-law) with a serious health condition
  • the employee’s inability to work because of a serious health condition
  • qualified needs connected with the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent serving as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or Regular Armed Forces

What Happens After FMLA Leave?

After FMLA leave is complete, employees have the right to be reinstated to the same positions they occupied before the leave. If this is not possible, the employee must be restored to a position equivalent to the one he or she held before the leave.

 

Employers should take the necessary measures to educate their HR representatives and supervisors on FMLA requirements to avoid penalties for non-compliance. For more information, you can download a free copy of The Employer’s Guide to the Family Medical and Leave Act, published by the U.S. Department of Labor.