FAQs About the Family and Medical Leave Act

Although there has been recent legislation addressing COVID-19 leave, the older Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) remains the main federal law governing occupational leave for health and family reasons. So employers need to know and understand basic FMLA rules. Following are answers to some frequently asked questions about this law administered by the Wage and Labor Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

mother checking on her sick child

Which Private Employers Are Covered?

Covered employers include private sector employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more weeks of the current or preceding year. Full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, plus employees of foreign companies operating in the United States, must be counted.

Which Employees Are Eligible for Unpaid Leave?

Employees are eligible if they:

The 12-month rule doesn't mandate a consecutive 12 months. Any time previously worked for the same employer — including seasonal work — counts toward the 12-month minimum.

What Specific Conditions Qualify an Employee for Leave?

Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave in a 12-month period for any one of these reasons:

Can an Employee Modify the Leave Schedule?

In some situations, employees may take FMLA leave on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis. In other words, employees might take leave in separate blocks of time or by reducing the time they work each day or week for a single qualifying reason. However, if leave is needed for planned medical treatment, employees must make a reasonable effort to schedule the treatment so it doesn't unduly disrupt the employer's operations. And if leave is for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, an employer must approve the use of intermittent or reduced schedule leave.

Must Employers Pay Employees on FMLA Leave?

No, the FMLA only requires unpaid leave. However, the law permits an employer to choose to pay an employee on FMLA leave under its own policy. Or an employer may require an employee to use accrued paid vacation, sick or family leave for some or all of the FMLA leave time.

How Must Employees Notify Their Employers About Taking FMLA Leave?

Employees must comply with their employer's regular rules for requesting leaves and provide enough information for their employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the request. Generally, employees have to request leave 30 days in advance when the need is foreseeable. If the need is foreseeable less than 30 days in advance or is unforeseeable, employees must provide notice as soon as practical under the circumstances.

What Notification Responsibilities Do Employers Have?

Covered employers must:

Important: Covered employers may be subject to a civil money penalty for willfully failing to post notice.

Must Employers Request Medical Certification?

When employees request FMLA leave due to a serious personal health condition or a covered family member's serious health condition, employers may request certification from a health care provider. An employer may also require second or third medical opinions (at the employer's expense) and periodic recertification.

Are Employees Who Take FMLA Leave Entitled to Job Restoration and Fringe Benefits?

Yes, when employees return from a leave, they must be restored to their previous job or an equivalent job with equivalent pay and benefits. Other terms and conditions of employment continue to apply. Furthermore, using a FMLA leave can't be counted against employees under a "no-fault" attendance policy. Employers are further required to continue group health insurance coverage for employees on FMLA leave under the same terms and conditions as before the leave.

For More Information

Do you have additional questions about policies and procedures under the FMLA? Contact your payroll or accounting professional for advice specific to your organization.

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