The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) helps employees balance their work and family lives by requiring covered employers to provide eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for certain family and medical reasons. Put simply, this law says that if you or an immediate family member has a serious health condition, you may be able to take off up to 12 weeks of work a year to deal with the issue. The law forbids covered employers from terminating eligible employees for asking for or taking leave, from cancelling their health insurance while they are on leave, or from taking their job out from under them while on leave. However, the law requires both employers and employees to play by the rules. Employers have human resource departments, attorneys, and sometimes even other companies that work to keep the employer in compliance with the rules. In order for you to take advantage of this law, you need to know what is required of you.
Tell your employer you need FMLA leave.
You must tell your employer as soon as possible that you need FMLA leave. Normally, that means at least 30 days in advance, unless the need is sudden or unpredictable.
Find out whether you are eligible for FMLA leave.
Within 5 business days of your request, your employer must tell you if you are eligible for FMLA leave. You are eligible for FMLA leave if you meet the following conditions:
- You have worked for your employer for at least 12 months; and
- You have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the FMLA leave; and
- Your employer employs 50 or more people at or within 75 miles of the place you work.
Your employer will most likely let you know whether or not you are eligible by giving you a form that looks like this: https://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/wh-381.pdf
Complete your paperwork on time.
If you are eligible for FMLA leave, your employer must give you at least 15 calendar days to provide information and documentation showing that the leave you are requesting is FMLA-qualifying. (The deadline to return your documents should be included on the form referenced above). Your employer should provide you with a form for you and your healthcare provider to complete and return that looks like this: https://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/wh-380-f.pdf
DO NOT ASSUME THAT IF YOU PROVIDE THIS FORM TO YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER THAT THEY WILL RETURN IT TO YOUR EMPLOYER PRIOR TO THE DEADLINE. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE YOUR EMPLOYER RECEIVES THE REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION WITHIN THE DEADLINE. FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THE DEADLINE CAN RESULT IN YOUR REQUEST FOR LEAVE BEING DENIED.
Comply with your employer’s policies.
Even after FMLA is approved, you must continue to comply with your employer’s reasonable leave policies. Your employer can request additional documents during the leave and can require you to report absences pursuant to its policy. If the need for leave or the amount of time needed changes while you are on leave, you must keep your employer in the loop. If you fail to continue to abide by the requirements of the FMLA or your employer’s policies, you could lose the protections of the FMLA and/or be subjected to discipline under your employer’s normal policies and procedures.
Contact CLC if you believe your FMLA rights have been violated.
The FMLA makes it illegal for an employer to do the following:
- Interfere with an employee’s FMLA rights;
- Restrain or deny an eligible employee his or her FMLA rights;
- Terminate an employee for requesting or taking FMLA leave;
- Discriminate against an employee for requesting or taking FMLA leave; or
- Retaliate against an employee for opposing any practice, or because of involvement in any proceeding, related to the FMLA.
The FMLA is a powerful tool for employees protect their jobs while also protecting the health of themselves and their families. However, much is required of employees in the approval process and beyond. It is important for employees to know not only their rights, but what they need to do to secure those rights.