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What Employees Should Know about FMLA

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

When it comes to Federal laws, the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, isn’t the most difficult to understand. But when you or a close family member are sick enough that you need to take a leave of absence from work, the last thing you want to do is to try to figure out government language. And yet, this is one instance where having a basic knowledge of the law is key. So, here are some basic points about using FMLA when you need to take a medical leave of absence. While this list isn’t meant to be definitive, it should help dispel some of the confusion.

What is FMLA?

FMLA stands for the Family Medical Leave Act. It’s a Federal law that provides up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain employees for their own serious health condition or the serious health condition of a close family member.

Who’s Eligible for FMLA?

To be eligible for FMLA, you have to work for a company that has fifty employees within seventy-five miles. You’ll need to have worked at your company for at least twelve months and you have to have worked at least 1,250 hours (i.e., at least part-time) over the last year.

Once you meet these criteria, you must have a serious health condition or you must have a close family member with a serious health condition that requires you to be absent from work for an extended period of time.

For FMLA to apply, a serious health condition is defined by your doctor. The Department of Labor provides a certification for your doctor to complete. As an employee, you’re required to have this form completed and returned to your employer. There is a similar form a doctor will need to complete to use FMLA to care for a close family member.

FMLA is Cumulative

FMLA provides twelve weeks of job-protected leave from the first day that your leave starts. Let’s say that you start FMLA on September 1, and you take four weeks to recover from knee surgery. You’ll have a total of nine weeks of remaining FMLA available to use until September 1 the following year. There is only one set of FMLA time per year.

Intermittent FMLA

FMLA can be taken on an intermittent basis to cover absences related to a serious health condition. If someone has to have regular physical therapy, infusions, or other care, this time can be covered by FMLA. When using intermittent FMLA, you’ll need to work with your supervisor and HR to properly record the time that was used.

Benefits While on Leave

Employers continue to pay their portion of an employee’s benefits while someone is out on FMLA. Usually, that’s about 70% of the total cost of benefits. The employee is responsible for paying the rest of the cost of their benefits, which is the amount that usually comes out of their paycheck. Your HR department will be able to tell you how you can make those payments.

FMLA and Pay

FMLA is unpaid, but you can still use your accrued paid time off and any disability benefits your company offers. Your leave time will not be impacted by the pay you receive while you’re on leave. Whether you’re paid or not, the time that you’re on leave will count against your annual allotment of FMLA time.

Returning to Work

If you take FMLA for your own serious health condition, you will be required to provide a doctor’s note clearing you to return. If you have any restrictions, such as limited walking or lifting, the doctor’s note should clearly specify those limitations are, and your employer should tell you if they can accommodate your restrictions.

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