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  • Writer's pictureKirstin Kennedy

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993, allows workers in the United States to take unpaid leave from their employment for the purpose of attending to personal or familial needs. The act, commonly referred to as FMLA, protects an individual’s job while he or she takes leave for a designated period of time. Additionally, FMLA ensures that eligible employees are able to retain the same terms and conditions of their employer-provided health insurance for the duration of their leave.

Generally, individuals who are deemed eligible for FMLA are entitled to up to twelve weeks of protected leave in a twelve-month period. FLMA-protected leave can be granted for a variety of different reasons. For example, a person may be eligible for FMLA leave as a result of childbirth and newborn care within the first year of a child’s life, or for an adoption or foster care placement during the first year of the child’s adoption placement. Leave can also be granted to workers who need to care of a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition, or for personal care related to a serious health condition.

Extended leave is available in some cases under the military caregiver leave, which provides up to twenty-six weeks’ worth of covered leave in a twelve-month period for a worker to provide care for a service member with a serious illness or injury related to his or her service. Such leave is only available where the worker is a spouse, child, parent, or next of kin of a military service member.

There are several requirements that must be met in order for a worker to be found eligible for FMLA-protected leave. To start, the employee must work for a covered employer, which includes all government agencies at the local, state, and federal level, as well as all private employers who maintain at least fifty employees for at least twenty weeks in the year of application. The employee must also have worked 1,250 hours during the year leading up to the requested leave. As a result, FMLA only applies to employees who have worked for the employer for at least one year on a part-time basis or more.

Qualifying individuals can submit their intention to take leave directly to the employer. In some cases, this may require a certification in the form of a doctor’s note. If the leave is foreseeable, employees are generally required to provide thirty days’ worth of notice to the employer. If not, the employee must provide notice to the employer within a reasonable period of time. For example, an employee who schedules a surgery must notify his or her employer of the need for leave within thirty days of the leave or as soon as he or she schedules the surgery. On the other hand, an employee who encounters an emergency need for leave will likely have more leeway in terms of notice.


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