FMLA Leave: Three Things to Know as a Manager

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The FMLA is an important law that provides employees with a way to balance their professional and private lives while still maintaining their employment status with a company. It is important for managers to understand how to implement the law to protect employees’ rights to equal employment opportunities and promote employees’ personal wellbeing and work-life balance.


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What is FMLA?

FMLA stands for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is a federal labor law that guarantees eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave on family and medical grounds while enjoying group health benefits.


The purpose of the FMLA is to provide employees with leave for family and medical emergencies while ensuring job security in their current position. It also serves as a tool for safeguarding employees’ rights and provides equal employment opportunities for all.


The United States Department of Labor (DOL) outlines that the purposes of the FMLA are to:


  • Balance employees’ workplace and family needs
  • Promote the stability and economic security of families
  • Preserve family integrity
  • Allow employees to take reasonable leave for important health and medical reasons
  • Entitle employees’ reasonable work-life balance while accommodating the legitimate interests of employers

Related: Unlimited Vacation Policy: Why Employers Should Consider It


Who is eligible for FMLA?

The DOL enforces the regulations and standards for using FMLA, including what criteria determine whether an employer or employee is eligible.


Company requirements

FMLA applies to private organizations that have 50 or more employees during at least 20 workweeks in a calendar year. Private companies that have fewer than 50 employees aren’t covered by FMLA, but they may be covered by state family and medical leave laws. The FMLA applies to all government agencies and public and private elementary and secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees.


Employee requirements

In order to take FMLA leave, an employee must first work for an employer who’s covered by FMLA. If an employee does work for a covered employer, they need to meet additional criteria regarding the length of their employment. Employees must work for their employer for:


  • A minimum of 12 months, though they do not have to be 12 consecutive months
  • At least 1250 hours in the 12 months before they plan to take leave

In addition to length of employment, FMLA stipulates that an employee must also work in a location with at least 50 employees within a 75 miles. If the employer has over 50 employees, but they are not within 75 miles of one another, the employee does not qualify for FMLA leave.


Situational specifications

There are four specific scenarios that qualify employees for FMLA leave, including:


  • Birth of a child or the adoption or foster placement of a child in the employee’s home
  • Employee’s own serious health condition
  • Health condition of a spouse, child or parent
  • Qualifying needs related to a child, spouse or parent being in the military


Military entitlements

The FMLA provides special rights to employees who have family members in the National Guard, reserves or armed forces. Family members of military service members are entitled to take up to 26 weeks of leave within a 12-month period if they are caring for a service member who has a serious injury or illness. Employees are also allowed to take FMLA to deal with deployment-related issues, such as:


  • Updating legal documents, like Power of Attorney
  • Changing titles of vehicles
  • Going to banks to make changes to names on accounts
  • Attending mental health counseling for reasons related to deployment
  • Attending pre-deployment briefs
  • Arranging additional or alternate child care
  • Attending homecoming events

Related: How to Create a Paid Time Off Policy


How FMLA impacts a business

The biggest impacts to businesses are that they must hold the employee’s position and continue to provide health benefits during the duration of their absence. Employers are required to restore employees to the same position they held—or a similar position with similar compensation and responsibilities—after they return from leave. They must also continue to pay benefits for the employee while they are on leave. 


It’s also important that employees know:


What qualifies for a serious health condition

Managers need to know when an employee’s illness becomes a serious health issue. The FMLA considers an illness a serious health condition if:

  • The illness requires inpatient care or continuing treatment
  • The illness involves three consecutive calendar days of incapacity 
  • The employee requires two or more visits to a health care provider within 30 days
  • The employee requires one visit to a medical provider with a regimen or continuing treatment 

The DOL states that an employee needs to provide evidence of the medical condition for which they are taking leave, such as doctor’s notes.


What an employee’s obligations are to their employer

The DOL provides guidelines to employees to ensure the accurate and efficient processing of FMLA leave. For example, when an employee plans to take leave, they must provide a 30-day notice. If they must take FMLA in short notice, they are required to inform their employer as soon as possible and follow the employers’ guidelines for time-off notices. These obligations ensure that employers and employees maintain communication about an employee’s situation and leave. This communication ensures that an employee’s FMLA leave is properly processed and upheld.



Here are commonly asked questions about FMLA leave:


Can FMLA leave be taken intermittently?

Yes, employees can take FMLA leave intermittently in separate blocks of time to reduce their usual daily or weekly schedule to take care of a medical condition. 


Can employees work during FMLA leave?

Employers are not allowed to make their employees work while on FMLA leave. However, they can occasionally contact the employee for small details such as the location of files and updates on the projects the employee was handling before their leave. 


Can employees collect unemployment benefits while on FMLA leave?

Employees are not entitled to unemployment benefits while on FMLA leave.


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