30 Years of the FMLA
Summary: As we reach the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, what better time is there to reflect on the law and the effects it has had on American workers? Click through for a discussion about the FMLA, including its benefits and drawbacks as well as its future.
Ever since it was put into action, the FMLA has made it possible for working Americans to receive a guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the event they need to recover from an illness, care for a family member under specific circumstances or stay home with a newborn, all without fearing that they will lose their job as a result. However, keep in mind that employees are usually required to submit a request to take FMLA leave in advance of taking FMLA-related time off.
Which businesses qualify for FMLA-related time off?
Now, the stipulations of the FMLA apply only to businesses that employ more than 50 workers, meaning employees who work at very small businesses often don’t qualify for FMLA leave. If your company meets the size requirement, has employees who have worked within a 75-mile radius and said employees have worked for you for at least 20 workweeks over the course of the current or previous calendar year, then you will be recognized as an employer that can offer FMLA leave.
Requirements of the employees
Any requests made by employees for FMLA leave are expected to be made no fewer than 30 days in advance of the employee’s intended first day of leave. While a 30-day notice is the minimum, employees should notify their employers of their desire to take FMLA leave as soon as possible. After doing so, employees are also required to provide their employer with medical documentation relevant to the FMLA leave request within 15 days of the start of their leave.
Requirements of the employers
On the employer side of things, an employer has to notify the employee who is requesting FMLA leave about the status of their request within five business days. If the employer denies the employee’s request for FMLA leave, the employer must provide the employee with a valid reason as to why their request was not approved.
Employees who take FMLA leave are allowed to use the time all at once or in increments. Whether your FMLA leave is taken consecutively or intermittently will depend on the needs of the employer as well as the specifics of the need for FMLA leave. The FMLA allows employees to take their leave in either 12- or 26-week increments over the course of 12 months, but ultimately it’s up to the employers to decide what they prefer their employees do.
For a lot of employers, the FMLA is preferred to be enacted on a rolling basis to ensure their employees do not take 12 weeks of FMLA leave at the end of December followed by 12 more weeks at the beginning of January. And to clarify, even though FMLA leave is unpaid time that employees take off work, their jobs are protected and the employee will still be employed when the FMLA leave period comes to an end.
For some small businesses, their workforces fluctuate and have fewer than 50 workers at times. So what does this mean in terms of their ability to provide their employees with the option of FMLA leave? Essentially, these businesses still qualify for FMLA leave coverage as long as the business employed at least 50 workers for 20 weeks in either the current or previous year.
Now, are part-time employees eligible for FMLA leave? Such employees can receive up to 12 weeks’ worth of unpaid leave for both family reasons and medical purposes as long as the employees have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours, though this does not include paid nor unpaid time that was taken in the previous 12 months.
In other words, part-time workers are eligible for FMLA leave if they work approximately 24 hours per week over the course of 52 weeks. Although FMLA leave is unpaid, businesses must maintain the existing group health care benefits that were in place prior to the employees’ FMLA leave. Likewise, employers must restore either the same position or an equivalent role for the employee once their leave is over.
According to Entrepreneur magazine, FMLA leave, like intermittent leave, can be taken in separate and multiple blocks of time. However, there are two main circumstances that must be present if FMLA leave is to be taken: The employee is requesting FMLA leave for a medical reason or to focus on a “serious condition.”
Back in 2009, new regulations were put in place in order to define what a serious condition meant in the context of FMLA leave. Since then, a serious condition is recognized as three consecutive days’ worth of incapacity in addition to two visits to a health care provider. These two visits are required to have taken place within 30 days of the incident that caused the serious condition.
The flip side
While FMLA leave is a highly appreciated option for many working Americans, the law still places workers who cannot afford to take unpaid time off work at a disadvantage. Countless other workers who either do not qualify for FMLA leave or cannot take unpaid leave for economic reasons do not yield many benefits from FMLA leave, if any at all. In fact, according to Fortune, upward of millions of employees refuse to take FMLA leave even if they want to simply because the leave is unpaid.
Please note that there are many states in the U.S. that offer paid family leave programs that allow employees to take time off from work for qualifying reasons. Keep in mind that state-regulated programs such as these are not controlled by the federal government nor are they part of the federal FMLA program.
Look into the options in your state and review the requirements to see whether paid family leave or paid medical leave is an option available to you. As always, protect yourself and ensure your options are in compliance with the FMLA by speaking with a legal adviser. Professionals can assist you in the process of mitigating any legal repercussions that may arise and can also help you understand how the FMLA may apply to your specific situation.