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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

What Is the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act is a legislative movement that passed in 1993 that allows certain employees to take unpaid leave for specified family or medical reasons. The FMLA allows a set period of time for an eligible employee to take off and still be allowed to return to their job without losing their position or their group health insurance coverage.

Under the FMLA, employees may take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period. This is different from an annual basis in that it does not begin counting the 12 months until the first time the employee uses their 12 allotted weeks. Some examples of FMLA-covered reasons to use this leave time include:

  • The birth of a child
  • The care of a newborn child within one year of birth
  • The placement of a child for adoption or foster care with the employee
  • Care for a newly placed child for adoption or foster care within one year of placement;
  • Caring for an employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has been diagnosed with a serious health condition;
  • Receiving treatment for a serious health condition that renders the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job.

Additionally, the FMLA leave may be taken by employees for “any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on ‘covered active duty.’” This allows the employee to care for any family members in the military using the FMLA-allotted time.

The FMLA also includes a special provision that allows 26 workweeks of leave within 12 months to care for a service member with a “serious injury or illness.” This clause only takes effect if the service member is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the employee. 

Key Takeaways

  • The Family Medical Leave Act is a law that enshrines unpaid leave for family and medical emergencies as a right for qualified employees.
  • To qualify, employees must have worked for an employer who is either a government entity, primary or secondary school, or private company with at least 50 employees for at least a year while meeting certain hourly quotas.
  • If they qualify employees to have a right to up to 12 weeks per 12 months of unpaid leave for qualified medical or family reasons.
  • If you have been fired after taking unpaid leave that you qualified for, under the FMLA, an experienced Employment Law attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

The Family Medical Leave Act, and Employment Law

The FMLA can provide families the opportunity to care for their children or handle other serious medical concerns without the dread that they may lose their job. However, the FMLA does not apply to every employer, and not every employee is covered under the FMLA. 

The FMLA applies to all public agencies. This includes the federal government, local government, libraries, post offices, and others. It also includes public and private elementary and secondary schools. The FMLA does not apply to private companies unless they have at least 50 companies, putting the FMLA above the threshold of similar workplace laws such as discrimination laws which usually apply to businesses of 15 to 20 employees. This employee cap does not apply to government entities.

Employees must meet certain requirements, even in an FMLA-qualified position, before they can directly benefit from the FMLA. First, they must have worked for their current employer for at least 12 months. Second, they must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months. That translates to approximately 24 hours per week and does not count from the beginning of the year but instead 12 months back from the time the FMLA entitlements are applied for. Finally, the employee must work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

A point to note about the 12 months of employment is that they do not have to be consecutive. This means that seasonal workers or workers who left and returned can still meet the 12-month employment requirement. The exception is if the break was at least seven years ago. In this case, the break will not count as consecutive employment unless the break was covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) or if there is a written agreement, such as a collective bargaining agreement, that outlined the employer’s intent to rehire employees after a break in service.

Certain jobs, such as airline flight crews have different rules for FMLA qualifications to reflect their more complicated pay periods. Additionally, military families may receive specific FMLA protections in certain situations. 

If an employee does qualify for FMLA, they will be able to use their unpaid leave in qualified circumstances. Sometimes an employer may also take time off due to pregnancy complications out of the FMLA granted 12 weeks of leave as well.

Bottom Line

If you qualified for FMLA-granted leave and took it, only to be fired or refused your job upon your return, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer for wrongful dismissal. To file your lawsuit, you will need the assistance of an Employment Law attorney. 

An experienced Employment Law attorney can use their legal expertise, practiced trial tactics, and cutting-edge expert witnesses to get you the best possible outcome for your case. Your Employment Law attorney will demonstrate how you both qualified for FMLA and how your employer terminated you in violation of the protections of the act to persuade the judge that your cause is correct.

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