Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

June 11th, 2013

The basics 

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

To qualify for FMLA an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and be employed at a worksite where the employer employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

What’s covered under FMLA?

Twelve work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to the serious health condition of the employee, parent, spouse or child, or for pregnancy or care of a newborn child, or for adoption or foster care of a child. FMLA may, in certain circumstances be taken intermittently.

At the end of leave, an employer must reinstate the employee into the same or an equivalent job. There are very limited exceptions to this. Detailed answers to most frequently asked questions can be found on the Department of Labor website.

What’s not covered under FMLA is often not as well understood. FMLA does not cover same sex marriages. It also does not cover caring for grandparents or brothers and sisters (certain exceptions apply). With ObamaCare and the growing part time workforce it’s worth it to clarify that FMLA does not apply to employees who work less than 25 hours a week. Additionally, regulations about whether sick time and/or vacation time must be used before unpaid FMLA are at the discretion of the employer or company policy.

Updated protections for 2013

On February 5, 2013 the U.S. Department of Labor celebrated the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act with the implementation of two important protections of FMLA.

The first protection allows families of eligible veterans the same job-protected FMLA leave currently available to families of military service members and it also enables more military families to take leave for activities that arise when a service member is deployed.

The second protection allows a special eligibility provision for airline flight crew employees so they are able to take advantage of FMLA.

The maternity leave issue

FMLA does not, in many opinions, adequately address the maternity leave issue. Currently the United States, Swaziland, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea are the only countries that do not offer employees paid maternity leave.

An alternative is to purchase short term disability insurance and accrue as much sick and vacation time as possible. Unfortunately this does not, once again, meet the needs of the part time work force or the growing number of single parent families.

The Hill, Congress Blog (February 5, 2013) addresses this issue: “It’s time to stop saying the words “family values” and to start really valuing families.

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