The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was instituted 20 years ago by the U.S. Department of Labor, with the intention of helping employees balance work and family responsibilities. It allows for a reasonable amount of unpaid leave for specific reasons while protecting the legitimate interests of employers.
The FMLA governs all public agencies, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and employers with 50 or more employees. Employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks (or more) of unpaid, job-protected leave if they have worked for their employer for 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location with 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
The following situations qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA:
- The birth of the employee’s child if the leave is completed within twelve (12) months of the date of birth of the child;
- The placement for adoption or foster care of a child with the employee if the leave is completed within 12 months of the date of placement of the child;
- To care for an eligible family member if that individual has a serious health condition; or
- The employee has a serious health condition that makes it impossible for the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job.
- If a family member is called to active duty or receives notice of an impending call to active duty in the Armed Forces in support of a contingency operation.
- To care for a family member who has incurred a serious injury or illness while on active duty in the Armed Forces.
On February 5, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor issued two statutory FMLA protection expansions, effective March 8, 2013.
The first expansion allows eligible employees to take up to 26 workweeks of leave to care for a current service member with a serious injury or illness. In addition, 12 workweeks of leave are available for qualifying exigency leave related to a family member’s active duty or call to active duty.
The second expansion modifies existing unique FMLA rules that apply only to airline personnel and flight crews. Before the amendments, several flight crews did not meet FMLA eligibility requirements because of the way their hours are calculated.
New laws and implementing rules and changes mean employers must also make changes:
- Make sure your handbook reflects the new language and terms of the FMLA expansions.
- Train managers, supervisors, and employees on the new expansions that might apply to them.
- Make sure you have current FMLA forms from the DOL website to use for FMLA leave certification. They can be downloaded here.
- The FMLA can be challenging to understand and implement. If you have questions, check with your legal counsel.