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FMLA Eligibility

FMLA Eligibility

When your work demands collide with family responsibilities, you may be eligible for unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires covered employers to grant job-protected leave to eligible employees for specific reasons.

The FMLA is a federal law applying to companies with over 50 employees. Some state laws mirror the federal law but apply to smaller businesses. Business owners should check their state and local laws when deciding on their employees' leave policy.

FMLA Eligibility Requirements

The FMLA provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave in addition to any other paid sick leave, vacation time, or paid time off they have through their employer. Eligible employees may take intermittent leave or take 12 weeks of leave at once. Covered employers must grant reasonable leave requests.

Employee Eligibility Requirements

Under FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period with job reinstatement privileges.

FMLA leave isn't available to all workers. FMLA eligibility requires you to meet the following criteria:

  • You must have worked for the company for at least 12 months before your request
  • You must have at least 1,250 service hours in the 12 months prior to your leave
  • Your employer must employ 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite

Employer Requirements

All "covered employers" must abide by FMLA requirements. A covered employer is:

  • Any business with more than 50 employees, including part-time workers and seasonal workers who worked more than 20 workweeks in the previous year
  • Any public agency, including government facilities
  • Public and private schools and educational facilities

Employers must keep the employee's position open until the employee returns from medical leave. If the employer must fill the position, the employer must offer the employee an equivalent position equal in pay and responsibility upon their return.

Some employees, known as "key employees," don't have the same right of reinstatement as other workers. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a "key employee" as an otherwise eligible worker whose absence would cause undue hardship to the company.

FMLA Eligible Leave

The purpose of FMLA is to provide a means for families to balance both work and medical or personal needs without sacrificing their job security. An employee may request FMLA for any of the following reasons:

Prenatal care and pregnancy

  • Care for a newborn child
  • Adoption or placement of a foster child
  • Care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious illness or injury
  • Care for their own serious health condition

To transition employees or spouses called to active duty

FMLA does not cover minor illnesses with short-term recoveries, routine medical treatment and doctors' appointments, or medical costs. But under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employee may use FMLA leave as a reasonable accommodation for regular medical care.

Military Leave and Qualifying Exigencies

In 2008, Congress added military family leave to the FMLA. Families and employees may use the FMLA to care for servicemembers with serious medical conditions.

Employees may use FMLA for "qualifying exigencies" related to military service. These include but are not limited to:

  • Deployment preparation, including National Guard call-ups for natural disasters
  • Return of a servicemember from active duty
  • Military events and ceremonies

A qualified servicemember is anyone on active duty with the Armed Forces, including active reserve and the National Guard.

Understanding the FMLA

Employers and employees both have FMLA rights and responsibilities. Understanding these duties can help you comply with FMLA requests.

12 Months of Employment

The 12 months of employment can be consecutive or cumulative. Breaks in seven years or more of service don't count unless the break was part of the employee's military service or a written agreement. But part-time or seasonal workers may qualify if they meet the hourly service requirement.

1,250 Hours of Service

For FMLA eligibility purposes, "hours of service" means hours that the employee worked. This does not include vacations, holidays, sick days, or other situations where an employee was away from work (whether paid or unpaid). The 1,250-hour requirement must accrue within the 12-month period before the start of the leave.

50 Employees Within a 75 Mile Radius

FMLA covers private-sector employers who employ 50 or more employees. For FMLA eligibility, employees must work at a worksite within a 75-mile radius of a 50-employee facility during the preceding calendar year. Remote workers are eligible for FMLA leave if the office they report to is FMLA-eligible.

Public agencies and schools aren't held to the 50-employee rule. So, most federal employees are eligible for FMLA.

FMLA Eligibility Notice

Once an employee requests FMLA leave — or an employer learns of a worker's qualifying reason for leave — employers must grant FMLA leave within five business days. The employee's FMLA request doesn't have to reference the federal law. The employer is responsible for recognizing that the employee's leave request meets FMLA guidelines and making appropriate recommendations.

Employers can deny an FMLA request, but they must give valid reasons for doing so within five days. Employers may request medical certification of an employee's serious injury or illness.

Alternative FMLA Leave Options

FMLA covers employers with more than 50 employees. Nothing prevents smaller employers from allowing qualified workers to take unpaid leave if the company can cover them. If you need time off for medical reasons but you're not eligible for FMLA leave, there may be other ways you can take unpaid leave.

Vacation or sick time is an alternative if your employer offers it. If the medical condition is serious, you may ask for short-term or long-term disability. Check with your manager or human resources department to learn about your company's leave policies.

Are You Entitled to FMLA Leave? Get Help From an Attorney Today

If you need help determining your FMLA eligibility or reasons for leave denial, you may need help from a legal professional. Employers should know that their state's medical leave laws may be more restrictive than federal laws. Discuss your FMLA questions with an employment law attorney in your area.

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