What is the Family and Medical Leave Act- FMLA?

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act- FMLA?

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Ill health is an unwelcomed guest that turns up without warning. But when it does, we need to be well-equipped to sail through the tough times.

For the working people, the situation can be disturbing as it gets difficult to choose between the responsibilities towards the family and towards their work. There could be instances when you may be unable to work due to your own health condition or because you are looking after and caring for a family member.

There has already been a considerable amount of irreparable loss due to the pandemic, and therefore, the governments world over have been focusing on introducing benefits post COVID-19 that help eliminate or reduce people’s problems. Although some employers may be sympathetic toward your situation, others may not. FMLA or the Family and Medical Leave Act safeguards employees and provides job-protected leaves.

Family and Medical Leave Act- FMLA
Family and Medical Leave Act- FMLA

This article helps us explore the topic of FMLA and the various elements related to it:

What Is FMLA - Family and Medical Leave Act?

FMLA is a federal labor law that requires employers of a certain size to give employees unpaid leaves or time off if they experience serious family health concerns. Employers are also guided by the FMLA as it provides time and resources for families to deal with family emergencies.

You may be approved for leave for pregnancy, adoption, foster care placement, family illness, or military duty. In addition, the employee is protected from losing their job and insurance coverage while on leave.

The FMLA was signed and enacted by then-President Bill Clinton on February 5, 1993. The bill was enacted as an acknowledgment by the federal government of the changes in the U.S. family, workplace, and labor force.

As directed by the Act, employees are permitted to take up to 12 weeks off for various medical reasons, for example, pregnancy or childbirth, adoption, illness of themselves or a family member. As a result, foster care or military leave are also eligible situations in this case. An eligible employee is entitled to 26 weeks of leave if they are the service member's spouse, parent, son, daughter.

The FMLA program is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (DOL-WHD).

The Purpose of the Family and Medical Leave Act

Through the FMLA, workers are relieved from having to decide between their careers and their families. This allows them to balance employment security while taking care of their children, parents, and other family members.

Speaking of employment protection, the plight of women cannot be overlooked. Women, in particular, are affected by it because of their highkighted roles in caring for their families. They also face significant effects of their familial roles as default caregivers in the workplace. Offering them benefits on this front enables them to take a leave of absence to care for a newborn or adopted child, knowing well they can return to work afterward.

FMLA as employment protection also emphasizes the role played by men in their families and at the workplace. It recognizes that men can also participate in taking care of family members  beyond being breadwinners. With FMLA in place, now even men can balance between their familial responsibilities and careers.

A look at the intents of the FMLA as provided by the bill are:

  • Balance the work demands with the needs of family life. This also enables them to secure and stabilize their families.
  • It allows employees to take leave for medical reasons. This includes the birth or adoption process. They can also take leaves to look after a child or parent, or spouse suffering from serious health problems
  • The Act also achieves these objectives while accommodating companies' legitimate interests
  • The 14th Amendment’s ‘The Equal Protection Clause’ entails achieving these purposes in a manner that limits the likelihood of employment discrimination on the basis of gender, including granting leave for a maternity-related disability
  • The purpose of this clause is to achieve the goal of equal employment opportunities for men and women

Eligibility for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

A number of requirements must be met to qualify for the FMLA's protections. They include working for the government or for a private employer and meeting other requirements.

The following requirements must be met by any employee working for a private entity:

  • Employed by a company that has a minimum of 50 employees
  • Employed by a company with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the workplace
  • If you have spent at least 12 months with the employer
  • Worked a minimum of 1250 hours

How do I apply for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

When you need to take a leave, it is wise to let the employer know that you are looking for an FMLA-covered leave. If you are approved for FMLA leave due to a condition and need additional FMLA leave because of that condition, you must mention that in your request. You may not be protected by the FMLA if you don't furnish your employer with enough information to know your leave may be covered under the FMLA.

You must give your employer adequate notice before you take an FMLA-covered leave. Where the surgery is planned or involves pregnancy, you must notify your employer 30 days in advance if you know you will need an FMLA leave. Your employer must receive notice of your need for leave as soon as possible. This could generally be either the day you discover the need or the next working day. You must inform the employer at the earliest if you need FMLA leave unexpectedly. This could typically be in case of an accident or an emergency.

The FMLA Employee Guide describes employee rights and responsibilities under the act for employees working for covered employers.

Leave Application Process

It is essential to note that every employer has a standalone leave policy and is separate from the FMLA. When you are applying for a leave, remember that you know about your employer’s leave policy. Also, you must comply with both the FMLA and your employer’s leave policy.

Let’s look at the details of the leave application process here:

Step 1: You let the employer know that you need to apply for a leave.

Step 2: The employer notifies the employee within 5 business days whether or not they are eligible for FMLA.

Step 3: If they are eligible, their leave is FMLA-protected, and the employer can request them for medical certification. If they are not eligible, then it implies their leave is not FMLA-protected.

Step 4: In case of proven eligibility, the employer provides them with all your FMLA rights. The employee must furnish a completed certification within 15 calendar days if requested by the employer.

Step 5: In the case where the employer requests certification, the employee needs to furnish a complete set of certifications within 15 business days.

Step 6: The employer notifies the employee if their leave is designated within 5 business days

Step 7: When designated, the leave is FMLA-protected. If not, then it is not FMLA-protected, and the employee has the option of applying again in the future.

Step 8: When you come back to the office after the leave, the employer returns you to your same or nearly identical job.

What is Medical Certification?

A Medical certification is a document that the employee must hand over to the employer when requested. It is a document that comprises all the details about why the leave is applied. The employer may request for a medical certification which must be produced within 15 working days by the employee. The responsibility and the costs of obtaining the certification from the health care provider lie with the employee. Failure to procure and provide the medical certification in the stipulated timeframe may lead to dismissal or denial of leave.

Let’s look at the information that must be included in the medical certificate:

  • The health care provider’s contact information
  • The time when the medical condition first appeared
  • The anticipated amount of time that the condition would last
  • Related information pertaining to the medical condition such as symptoms, details regarding hospitalization, visiting the physician, details of the treatment
  • Details about the family members that need care from the employee
  • Details about the time of leave (whether intermittent or a continuous absence from the office)

The employer must notify in writing if more information is required. This missing information must be furnished within 7 working days. Additionally, you may need to provide an updated medical certificate in case you are going to extend your leave.

You may access an entire piece of information through the employee guide.

Returning to Work

When you return to work after completing the FMLA leave, you must be returned to the same or a nearly identical job that you left. However, if you are not rehired in the same job, your new position must involve the following:

  • Offer the same or significantly similar responsibilities and status;
  • Offer the same general level of skill and authority;
  • Provide identical pay and bonus opportunities;
  • Offer identical benefits, which may include life insurance, health insurance, and other benefits
  • Have similar work schedules and the same work location.

A significant point to be noted here is that the employee may not retain the employment status if the employee exhausts the FMLA leaves and does not return to work in time.

While this holds true, there are exceptions and specific special circumstances that can be considered. Let's take a look:

For key employees:

A key employee is someone who:

  • Is salaried
  • FMLA-eligible
  • Highest-paid 10% of the workforce that works within 75 miles of the workplace

Such key employees may not be granted their original positions after coming back from their FMLA leaves.

For Teachers:

Specific rules and regulations are also applied to the roles of a teacher or the employees working in the local educational institutions. These rules are applied when they require intermittent leaves or in the case when they request leaves when the school term nears the end.

How to File an Online Complaint with the Department of Labor?

There may be instances when the employees feel that there has been a violation of their rights under the FMLA; they can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The administering body takes care of enforcing the FMLA for the employees across the country.

The employees can connect with WHD at 1-866-487-9243, which provides information on the nearest local office that can be further contacted for assistance. When filing a complaint, the following information will be required:

  • Complainant’s name
  • Address and phone number
  • The company’s name where they work
  • The contact number of the company
  • Employer’s or manager’s name
  • Description of the FMLA leave request followed by the response of the employer

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Key Takeaways

Key points from the post:

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993, which protects the jobs of workers who must take time off for personal or family reasons
  • For reasons such as childbirth, adoption, and illness, qualified employees may take up to 12 weeks off
  • As part of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, an employee can return to their former job when they return from a leave of absence. In the case that job is no longer available, the person must be given a job with essentially the same pay and position
  • For an employee to qualify for FMLA benefits, they must work for a company that employs at least 50 people within 75 miles of the worksite and has worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year
  • Additionally, employees who take unpaid FMLA leaves are protected from losing their jobs. This implies that they may return to the same job they held before the leave began
  • Where the same position is not available, an equally rewarding, equally beneficial, and equally responsible position must be provided to the employee
  • Balancing the work demands with the needs of family life and enabling them to secure and stabilize their families are some of the intents of the FMLA
  • A Medical certification is a document that the employee must hand over to the employer when requested. It is a document that comprises all the details about why the leave is applied
  • The employees can connect with WHD at 1-866-487-9243, which provides information on the nearest local office that can be further contacted for assistance, in case they want to file a complaint with the Department of Labor
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