Who can use FMLA to take a leave of absence?

The Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees with the ability to take time off in the event of a serious health condition, either their own or that of a loved one. Employers cannot deny time off to eligible employees.

When asking for time off under FMLA, it is important to know who and what conditions are covered.

Eligible employees

Employees can take FMLA if their employer is eligible under the law. Employers that must cover their employees include:

  • Private employers with at least 50 employees
  • Government agencies
  • Elementary and secondary schools

Even with those requirements, not every employee is covered. Employee requirements for FMLA coverage include:

  • Worked for the employer for at least 12 months, which do not have to be in a row but generally should not include a break of more than seven years
  • Worked for at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months, or at least 24 hours per week
  • Worked at a location with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite.

Eligible events

There are many reasons someone can take FMLA, one of which is for a serious health condition – either for a spouse, parent, child or your own. Conditions that typically qualify include:

  • An overnight stay in a hospital
  • Being incapacitated for three or more consecutive days
  • A chronic condition with occasional periods of incapacity (at least two times per year)
  • Pregnancy

FMLA is available for when a new child enters the family by birth, adoption or foster care, within the first year of the event. It’s a continuous leave unless the employer agrees to intermittent leave. FMLA is not gender-specific; fathers can take FMLA too.

The law also covers certain military deployments and up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period to care for an injured or ill servicemember.  

What if my employer won’t cover me?

It’s worth noting that FMLA is not paid leave. The law allows employees to take the time off they need without termination. State law dictates paid leave.

However, if an employer that meets the eligibility requirements tries to bar an employee from using FMLA for an eligible event, terminates an employee for using legally eligible FMLA or retaliates against an employee for using FLMA, which is illegal.

Employees can advocate for themselves by knowing their FMLA rights and keeping employers accountable.  

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