FMLA 101

Scott Campbell |

Becoming ill is never part of our plan, but nevertheless, it happens. When it does happen, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is available as a safeguard to protect both your job and your health insurance benefits while you’re unable to work. It also contains a provision that allows eligible employees to take leave to care for a sick child or spouse.

The original act was passed by Congress in 1993, with various revisions taking place over the years, with the most recent revision or Final Rule completed in February of 2015.

While employers are required to prominently post a notice explaining FMLA rights and responsibilities in their business, many remain confused about how the act works. Below are a few of the more common regulations that both employers and employees should be familiar with.

For starters, FMLA only applies to covered employers, which are defined in three ways: 1.) a private sector business that has more than 50 employees during at least 20 weeks in a calendar year; 2.) A public agency, including any local, state, or federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees; and 3.) Any public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees. This is an important distinction, since while smaller businesses with less employees can certainly abide by FMLA rules, they are not legally bound to do so.

In order to be eligible for FMLA, employees must work for an eligible employer for at least 12 months, though the months do not need to be consecutive. During that time, employees have to have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours. If eligible, employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period. Eligible reasons for FMLA leave include:

  • A serious health condition that prevents you from performing the essential functions of your job.
  • The birth or adoption of a child.
  • To care for a sick spouse, parent, or child.
  • For any situation that arises from a family member on covered active military duty.

Employers must notify an employee if their leave request falls under the jurisdiction of FMLA, and will also need to inform employees on how much leave time will be deducted from the 12 week allotment they are eligible for.

Most importantly, when an employee returns to work after FMLA approved leave, they must be given their original job back, or an equivalent job which must include equivalent pay, benefits, and all of the other benefits acquired prior to going on FMLA leave, including health insurance.

Employers are allowed to require employees to utilize any accrued vacation or sick time they may have accrued prior to using FMLA. And while employees are generally protected under FMLA, under certain circumstances, employers can still eliminate their position or their shift, though they are required to document the process. Employers are also prohibited from refusing to authorize FMLA leave or trying to discourage an employee from using FMLA. FFMLA leave can also not be considered when making hiring, promotion, or disciplinary decisions.

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