Frequently Asked Questions About the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Tyler Winn

What is the FMLA and what does it mean for an employer or an employee?  Keep reading to learn the answers to the most frequently asked questions FMLA.

What is the FMLA?

The FMLA grants eligible employees of covered employers the right to take unpaid and job-protected (meaning you can’t be fired for it) leave for specific medical and family reasons.

What employers are covered under the FMLA?

The FMLA applies to three groups of employers including:

  1. All public agencies, including federal, state, or local government agencies.  
  2. Public or private elementary schools and secondary schools (middle school and highschool).
  3. Private sector employers that have 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks per year within 75 miles.

What employees are eligible for unpaid leave under the FMLA?

Eligible employees are people who meet the following criteria:

  1. They work for a covered employer.
  2. They have worked for that employer for at least 12 months.  
  3. They have worked at least 1,250 hours for that employer during the 12 month time frame prior to the subject leave time.

Does the 12 month work requirement have to be the most recent 12 months?

No, the 12 months do not have to be consecutive. For a break in work that lasted 7 years or more, the work that took place before the 7 years does not normally count towards the 12 month requirement.  

However, the break in work that took place before the 7 years does count if it was as a result of service in the armed forces and is covered under USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act).  

The work before the 7 year break may aso count if there was a written agreement (such as a collective bargaining agreement).

How much unpaid leave are employees eligible for?

Eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave in a single 12 month period under specific medical and family reasons.

What type of medical or family reasons are acceptable reasons under the FMLA to grant unpaid leave?

There are five basic categories that are acceptable reasons under the FMLA to grant unpaid leave, including:

  1. If the employee gives birth to or adopts a child or places their son or daughter in foster care.
  2. If the employee has to care for their son, daughter, parent, or spouse that has a serious health related issue.
  3. If the employee has a serious health related issue that prevents them from performing the essential duties of their job.
  4. If an employee’s son, daughter, parent, or spouse is called to active duty status in the armed forces.
  5. If the employee is the son, daughter, parent, spouse, or next of kin and must provide care for a covered servicemember with a serious medical issue. It’s important to note that this reason allows the employee to take up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12 month period.

Does the 12 weeks of unpaid leave have to be taken all at once?

Not always.  Under certain conditions, the FMLA leave can be used on an intermittent basis. In these circumstances, employees can take leave in non-continuous hours, days, or weeks.

The employee, does however, have to make a reasonable effort to schedule medical treatment so that it does not unreasonably interfere with the employer. 

What effect does accrued PTO (paid time off) have on the unpaid leave?

Employers can require or employees may elect to have the accrued PTO cover a portion or all of the FMLA leave under certain conditions.

Does an employee have any requirements for requesting FMLA leave?

Yes. The employee has to comply with the employer’s typical requirements for asking for leave.  They must also provide sufficient information so that the employer can determine if FMLA applies to their request for leave.