What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

what-is-the-family-and-medical-leave-actThe Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives you up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to help an immediate family member with a serious health condition. The Act, which became law in 1993, also allows you to use that time to take 12 weeks from work to:

  • Resolve your own serious health condition
  • Give birth
  • Bond with your newborn
  • Bond with your adopted child
  • Bond with your new foster child

You are allowed to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month time frame when your family member is in the military. This gives you the right to care for a covered service member who has a serious health problem. The service member must be in the following category:

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Immediate blood relative
  • Child

What is an Immediate Family Member under FMLA?

The term “immediate family member” is defined by each state. Federal law defines a family member in this category as a spouse, parent or child. However, some states include a domestic partner, grandparent, sibling and mother or father-in-law.

Required Proof Needed to Take Leave under FMLA

Proof of a serious medical condition is not included in the law. In other words, you are not required to show proof that you have to take medical leave. However, your employer is allowed to ask you for proof such as certification from your or your family member’s health care provider. Your employer may do so either when you make the request or five business days after the request.

If your employer does ask you for proof, you have 15 calendar days to provide the documentation. Your employer may also contact the health care provider to obtain any clarification or authentication. You employer is not allow to ask any personal questions regarding your medical leave. They may only obtain the needed documentation.

Should You Use Your Paid or FMLA Unpaid Leave First?

The answer to that question can only be answered by your employer. Many employers require workers to use their paid leave prior to requesting FMLA leave. If your employer does not, it may still make sense to use paid time off first. After all, losing income can create a financial burden. If you decide to take your paid leave first, you are still entitled to take FMLA leave after that.

Are You Considered an Eligible Employee?

Only eligible employees are allowed to use FMLA unpaid leave. The law defines an eligible employee as one who:

  • Works at least 1,200 hours in a 12-month period.
  • Has worked for his or her employer at least 12 months prior to asking for the unpaid leave.

If you want to know whether you are included in this category or not, you will need to check with your company’s human resource department. You want to make sure you are an eligible employee before making the request.

The purpose of the FMLA is to ensure that an employee does not have to choose between work and family. You can receive unpaid time off from work when you have a medical emergency in your family or need to bond with a child. Before requesting time off under the FMLA, you want to check with your employer to make sure that you are an eligible employee.

If you feel you’ve met the criteria, but are still having issues getting your benefits, you may wish to retain the support of an employment attorney.


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