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Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

In 1993, in an effort to provide employees an opportunity to take care of certain family and medical needs including early child-rearing, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). A number of states have also enacted similar laws, which in some cases provide more coverage than the federal regulations.

I work for a small company, with only 10 employees. Am I covered under the FMLA?

If you work for a public employer, yes. If you work for a private business, you will be covered if the following criteria are met:

What does the FMLA do for me?

If you meet the criteria above, the FMLA will allow you up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period:

Under FMLA, do I have to take the 12 weeks granted to me in a row?

No. The time can be broken up on an intermittent basis. It is possible to take a few hours of leave every week for medical treatment.

My mother-in-law is ill. Can I take FMLA leave to care for her?

No. The law specifically states that "parent" does not include a parent-in-law.

What constitutes a "serious health condition"?

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

Do I have to let my employer know I want to take FMLA leave?

Yes, provided the leave is not in response to an unexpected medical emergency. The law requires 30 days notice of an intention to take leave and the reasons for the leave.

May my employer require my medical records to prove a serious illness?

Medical records do not have to be provided. The employer however, can ask that you provide medical certification that the condition exists. The certification must include:

Does my health care insurance continue while I am on leave?

Yes. If you share the cost of this coverage with your employer, you will have to arrange to continue to pay your portion of the insurance premiums.

What position will I return to at the end of my leave?

Under the FMLA, you have to be reinstated into the same or equivalent job that you left, with the same pay and benefits.

Will taking FMLA leave affect my gaining a bonus, promotion or raise?

No. The leave cannot be held against an employee. If you were eligible for a bonus prior to the leave, you will be entitled to that bonus on your return.

Is my job at risk for raising a complaint about the handling of an FMLA claim?

An employer may not in any way interfere with, deny or take any adverse action with your rights provided under the FMLA.

Where do I go if I need to file a complaint regarding my rights under the FMLA?

The federal Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (DOL) investigates and enforces the FMLA. Contact them at 1.866.4USWAGE (1.866.487.9243). If your state has its own family medical leave legislation you may also contact your state DOL.

I am expecting to have a baby shortly. Does my company have to grant me maternity leave?

The answer to this question is yes; however, the leave will either be called "pregnancy leave" or "parental leave." "Maternity leave" is a term that is normally reserved for women; using that reference can run afoul of the antidiscrimination laws.

Pregnancy leave is a type of medical leave that allows a woman time off from work during the period of time she is disabled as a result of having a baby. Parental leave applies to men as well as women and relates to leave for the care of a child, including a child who may have been adopted.

If your company has 15 or more employees, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects a pregnant woman against being fired, refused a new job, or denied a promotion. Further, leave for pregnancy would be treated the same as any other disability that someone in your company may incur. Also, many states have pregnancy discrimination protection for women.

My wife and I are adopting a child. Can I take parental leave?

If your company has at least 50 employees, you are eligible for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You may also be able to take sick, personal or vacation days. Some companies allow for unpaid leave. Check with your human resources department or supervisor about your company policy.

This type of leave is becoming more common. In 2004, California became the first state to offer paid family leave, giving eligible employees up to 6 weeks at partial pay to care for a new child.