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Reasons That Qualify For FMLA Leave

Reasons That Qualify for FMLA

The Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") allows eligible employees of covered employers to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical reasons. The federal law protects workers by requiring the leave of absence to be job-protected leave. This means employees have the right to reinstatement in the same job or an equivalent position upon their return to the workplace.

In addition to job reinstatement, the FMLA offers several other employee rights. While an employee is on FMLA leave, the employer must continue health benefits under the same conditions as if the employee had not gone on leave. So, an employer can't cancel a worker's health insurance when an employee needs FMLA leave. The employer also can't increase the worker's portion of the health insurance payment simply because the employee uses their FMLA leave rights.

FMLA-qualifying leave can be intermittent leave, which is time off from work taken in short terms. For example, the leave can be taken in short increments for medical treatment that might require a day or so at a time away from the workplace and span many months.

Below is a discussion of the reasons that qualify for FMLA leave under current FMLA regulations.

Common Reasons for FMLA Leave

The FMLA covers time away from the workplace for specific reasons. Generally, the types of events that trigger FMLA protection include:

  • The arrival of a new child in the family—whether by birth, adoption, or foster care
  • The care of a family member with a serious health condition
  • The employee's own serious health condition that prevents the worker from performing essential functions of the job

A "serious health condition" requires inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. It refers to:

  • Illnesses
  • Impairments
  • Physical or mental conditions

Ordinary illnesses such as a common cold, flu, earache, stomachache, or headache do not qualify for leave entitlement. But some common illnesses a doctor deems serious may qualify for FMLA leave under certain circumstances.

“Family member" is broadly defined and includes an employee's spouse, child, or parent. A family member also includes children for whom the employee has a parental relationship.

Parental Leave After the Birth of a Child

The birth of a child qualifies for FMLA leave. A mother may also use FMLA time off for prenatal care or continuing care once the child is born. A father may also use FMLA leave to care for a newborn child or to provide care for a spouse incapacitated as a result of the pregnancy or childbirth.

Parental leave does not have to be taken all at once. It can be intermittent. Upon an employer's approval, parents may spread their 12-week leave out over a year by taking a few weeks at a time.

Only one parent may qualify for pregnancy- or childbirth-related leave when the same company employs both parents.

Pregnancy Leave

Sometimes, pregnancy itself qualifies as a serious health condition for FMLA leave, especially when a doctor places the employee on bed rest during the pregnancy. Employees who request pregnancy-related leave may be required to prove the pregnancy-related complication through medical certification.

Adoption or Foster Care

The placement of a child for adoption or foster care is a qualifying reason for leave under the FMLA. Employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave within one year of placement.

Adoption leave may also occur before the actual placement of the child if an employee must be absent from work before the placement to attend counseling sessions, appear in court, or travel to another country to complete the adoption.

Medical Leave to Care for a Family Member With a Serious Health Condition

Employees may request leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Previously, only spouses, children, or parents were considered family members. But the definition of “family member" has evolved. According to current regulations, you can take FMLA leave to care for a child with whom you have a parental relationship. This includes having daily responsibilities for caring for the child or supporting the child financially. An employee's in-laws or grandparents, for example, are not included.

Employers may request “reasonable documentation of a family relationship." Employees can provide a simple statement noting that the family relationships exist.

Medical Leave for Your Own Serious Health Condition

An employee's own health condition may also qualify for FMLA leave. For example, employees who can't perform their essential job duties because of a serious illness or chronic health condition may request leave to treat the condition or receive prolonged care under a doctor's supervision.

FMLA regulations require a period of incapacity of more than three consecutive calendar days. If an employee's condition requires two or more visits to a healthcare provider for the same condition, those visits must occur within 30 days of the first day the employee became incapacitated.

Finally, according to FMLA regulations, an employee must receive treatment for a chronic health condition at least twice per calendar year. You may have to provide medical certification of the illness.

Military Family Member Leave

The FMLA provides military caregiver leave. In 2008, Congress added the military family leave provisions to the FMLA. Military families may use the FMLA to provide leave for covered service members with serious health conditions or to care for family members with serious health conditions.

You can also take leave for a “qualifying exigency." This includes:

  • Preparing for a deployment
  • The return of a service member
  • Attending official military ceremonies

A covered servicemember is someone on active duty with the Armed Forces.


Once you determine that you qualify for FMLA based on the above reasons, you must also have FMLA eligibility. You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months before taking leave and meet the minimum number of hours. If these conditions are met, you must comply with the FMLA notice requirements when requesting the workplace absence.

State Law

In some instances, FMLA leave isn't the only type of leave available to you. Consult local and state law because some cities and states have sick leave and family leave mandates that often offer even more generous leave benefits than the FMLA, such as paid leave. The more generous benefits prevail, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Get a Legal Evaluation of Your Family and Medical Leave Issues

If your employer denied your rightful leave for medical- or family-related matters, you may want to meet with an employment law attorney. Get some peace of mind with a legal evaluation of your situation.

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