The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that went into effect in 1993. According to the U.S. Labor Department, it was enacted “to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.”
Although the FMLA has been in place for more than 20 years, there is a lot employees don’t understand about how it works. It’s important to understand the law as much as possible so you take advantage of it when you can, and aren’t surprised by what it does and doesn’t allow.
Here are 5 facts every employee should understand about the FMLA.
1. The Basics
“The Family [and] Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to deal with family medical issues and familial military obligations,” says Andrey Tomkiw, partner at the law firm Tomkiw Mackewich.
“Qualifying employers are required to provide that leave for the birth or adoption of a child, assisting family members with serious health conditions, dealing with an employee’s own health condition, or certain qualifying family military functions. Qualifying employers include all employers with 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of each other.”
2. It’s Not Just for Childbirth
“One misconception about FMLA is that its main purpose is to allow new mothers to take time off to recover from giving birth and to spend time with their new baby. It’s more than that,” says Lindsey Wagner, a lawyer with Cathleen Scott & Associates.
“While commonly used for the birth of a child, FMLA provides leave rights to employees and their spouse, child, or parent suffering from a serious medical condition,” Wagner says. “Events constituting a serious medical condition can be many, but require something more than just the common cold.”
Certain military functions that qualify for FMLA leave may include “eligible employees whose spouse, child or parent is called to active military duty to make various family arrangements and to attend related ceremonies and briefings,” says Mic Fleming, president of YESShr.
3. Dads Can Take Time Off for a New Baby, Too
“We usually think of FMLA as job-protected time off for only new mothers,” Fleming says. “But the law applies to men as well. In fact, any eligible employee may take leave not only to give birth but to care for the child after birth, or arrange for adoption or foster care.”
FMLA has changed with the times as well: “‘Spouse’ now includes partners in same-sex marriages,” Fleming says.
4. You Must Notify Your Employer
“Employees need to keep their employers informed about their intention to use FMLA leave,” Tomkiw says. “Employees are required to provide notice of the need to take leave as soon as practicable, but, if the need for leave is foreseeable, provide at least 30 days’ notice.
“When requesting FMLA leave, employees must also provide enough information for the employer to determine if the leave qualifies, and the timing and duration of the leave. Employers have the option of requiring employees take paid leave concurrently with FMLA leave.”
5. It’s Not for Everyone – And It’s Not Paid
“If you’re planning a leave, make sure the FMLA applies to you,” says Robin Schooling, managing partner of Silver Zebras. “FMLA does not apply to all employees, nor does it mandate that such leave be paid,” Schooling says. “This often means new parents are faced with the financial necessity of returning to work well before they are fully prepared to do so.”