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When Are Your Employees FMLA Eligible?

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives some employees the right to up to 12 weeks time off work should certain personal or family health issues arise.

But contrary to popular opinion, not all employers have to give their employees FMLA leave regardless of the seriousness of the health issue, and not all employees are FMLA eligible regardless of who they work for.

So how do you know when you have to give your employees FMLA leave?

First, you should know whether your company is even covered by the FMLA -- meaning that you have to comply with its requirements. Providing employees protected time off work can be a financial burden, and so Congress generally made the law applicable to only large employers with 50 or more employees. Keep in mind that counting these 50 employees is not straightforward, and if you are unsure if FMLA is applicable to you, you should definitely contact an employment attorney.

After determining that you have to comply with the FMLA, you then have to know for what instances an employee is FMLA eligible. Here are three broad requirements:

  1. The employee must have been employed with the company for 12 months.
  2. The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of FMLA leave.
  3. The employee must have a FMLA-qualifying reason to take leave.

Again, there is nothing simple with the FMLA, even counting how many months your employee has worked for you. If you are unsure about the months employed and hours worked requirements for a specific employee, contact an attorney. The math can be tricky.

Finally, know that your employees can't take FMLA just for any reason like a headache or even stress. Instead, there are specific enumerated "serious health conditions" where someone can take leave. Examples include giving birth, having heart disease, and cancer. In addition, an employee can only take leave for their own serious health condition or that of an immediate family member.

FMLA eligibility is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied areas of employment law and leads to enormous liability for employers. If you are unsure of FMLA requirements, contact an attorney. Also, be aware that many states offer similar protected family and medical leave with slightly tweaked rules. So complying with the FMLA does not mean you will comply with state law requirements.

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