The Family and Medical Leave Act, or “FMLA,” is a federal labor law passed in 1993 that requires covered employers to provide their employees with job protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family circumstances. The Act provides rights and protections in regards to medical leave for employees, and may continue the unpaid leave for up to twelve weeks.

Additionally, the Act requires that covered employers preserve the health benefits for all eligible workers as if they were still actively working. During this time, the employee’s position is protected and they may not be terminated.

As a federal law, the Act preempts state laws even if those laws conflict with each other. What this means is that employees in states that offer little or no family and medical leave could still be protected under the FMLA. Some states may have laws providing more coverage, depending on the health or medical circumstances. However, most states do not provide more leave than what is required by federal law.

Not all employers are required to provide the benefits required by the FMLA. Federal law states that employers are required to provide all eligible employees with leave if the employer meets one of the following criteria:

  • The employer is a state, local, or federal governmental agency;
  • The employer is a private business that conducts interstate commerce, with fifty or more employees that work twenty or more weeks in one year; or
  • The employer engages in commerce, or an industry that affects commerce. Importantly, almost every business meets the requirement for being commerce or affecting commerce.

Employers have some specific responsibilities under the FMLA. Employers are not permitted to terminate an employee who takes family or medical leave for any reason as outlined in the FMLA. Employees working for employers covered by the FMLA have a right under federal law to take leave if they qualify. Employers cannot reprimand the employee for taking this leave, and the employer may not discriminate when granting FMLA leave.

What Is the Employee Eligibility Under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

In order to be eligible for coverage under the FMLA, an employee must meet all three of the following criteria:

  1. The employee must have worked for the employer for the last twelve months;
  2. The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the last twelve months; and
  3. The employee must be employed by an employer covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In addition to meeting the above criteria, the employee must also have a qualifying life event occur that would trigger a need for the FMLA. Some examples of qualifying life events include:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child;
  • The placement of an adopted or fostered child, that was placed within one year since applying for leave;
  • The employee needing to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition;
  • The employee has a serious condition which makes them unable to perform essential functions of their job (this includes pregnancy or prenatal care); and/or
  • The employee’s spouse, child, or parent is an active military member and is called to active duty.

Additionally, employees may take up to 26 weeks of leave in twelve months, if they take the leave in order to care for a spouse, child, parent, or next of kin that is a service member who has experienced a serious injury or illness. However, in general, every employee is limited up to 26 weeks of combined leave over a twelve month period. Eligible employees are entitled to take time off in order to care for themselves, or for family members. Eligible employees are entitled to some of the following benefits:

  • Twelve weeks of unpaid leave;
  • Medical and/or health benefits during their leave; and
  • The restoration of their original job once they return to work, once their leave has ended.

In general, employees cannot lose their job if they take Family and Medical Leave Act leave. Further, employers cannot reprimand employees for taking FMLA leave. Additionally, employers may not interfere with the FMLA protected rights of the employee. Also, employers cannot use FMLA leave as an adverse factor in any future employment evaluations, such as promotions or raises.

Do I Need an Attorney for Issues Regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act?

A skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney can help employers determine whether the Family and Medical Leave Act, or other state family leave laws, apply to their business. It is important to remember that business owners have a federal responsibility to their employees to adhere to all family leave laws.

An experienced employment attorney can also help ensure that both the employer and the employee’s rights are protected. This means that an attorney can help an employee show their employer when family or medical leave is required. If an employee is denied the leave for which they are eligible, the attorney can then help them file a complaint, as well as represent them in court as needed.