What’s the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

When caring for a family member, what are your rights to your employer? Read on to learn about your protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and understand what’s the Family and Medical Leave Act’s role in ensuring your rights are protected.

Among industrialized nations, the United States stands alone in not providing paid leave. In 2021, Congress failed to pass a four-week federal paid leave policy, which was already reduced, due to opposition from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. This situation creates stress for American families who desire to follow breastfeeding guidelines and recover from childbirth while grappling with the high costs of childcare.

As of March 2021, the Department of Labor reported that only 26% of civilian and private sector workers are entitled to paid family leave through their employer.

Nonetheless, carers may be eligible for FMLA. The Family Medical Leave Act, which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, is abbreviated as FMLA.

Martian Gasparian, Esq., a California-based attorney and owner of Maison Law, notes, “It safeguards the job position of employees who had to take a leave due to challenging circumstances.”

That seems simple, but for pregnant employees, it can frequently feel anything but. Regardless of whether you’re expecting a kid or not, experts agree that it’s vital to be familiar with FMLA.

Celia Balson, founder, and CEO of the HR consultancy firm Work Friendly and a mother of a toddler, advises, “It is crucial to understand how to handle FMLA in the event that anything occurs to you or a family member and you require time away from work to support yourself or your family.”

Families in need of FMLA were given advice and resources by experts.

What Exactly Is The FMLA?

According to Gasparian, the FMLA is intended to defend the rights of employees and workers who need to take a leave of up to a year’s duration. “The FMLA says that your employer must let you go back to work after a leave of absence,” explains Gasparian.

It is unpaid and mandatory for the majority of employers. Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions, argues Bryant Miller Olive labor and employment attorney David C. Miller, Esq.

First, the employee’s specific position is not guaranteed upon their return, but they must have an “equivalent” role. “Equivalent work,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is “a job that is basically the same as the original job in terms of pay, benefits, and other working conditions” (including shift and location).

The leave may be taken in installments but cannot be combined with other work perks.

“The employer may compel the use of any paid leave given by the employer, such as sick or vacation leave, concurrently with FMLA leave,” adds Miller.

When Does FMLA Start?

Miller states that the simplest answer is that FMLA begins when an employer designates it as such. Obviously, the employee has some influence over the FMLA start date.

“Usually, employees must provide 30 days’ notice of their desire to use FMLA when the need is anticipated,” Balson explains. “Should this not occur, the employer has the authority to delay the leave until 30 days after receiving the warning.”

But, pregnancy does not always proceed as planned. A baby may be born up to one month before their predicted due date.

In this instance, according to Balson, the Department of Labor mandates that “the employee must notify their employer as quickly as possible.”

Balson states that once the employer is contacted, they will initiate the FMLA process. The Department of Labor states that employers must adhere to this basic timeframe even if an employee gives less than 30 days notice of a leave of absence.

“This process includes alerting you within five days of submitting supporting evidence or an FMLA application if you are qualified for FMLA,” Balson explains. “If you qualify, your employer will inform you of your FMLA rights and duties, as well as any certification requests. After approval, your unpaid FMLA leave will commence.”

Who Is Protected by the FMLA?

The Department of Labor states that a worker is qualified for FMLA under the following conditions:

  • They have been employed by the employer for at least a year.
  • They have accrued at least 1,250 hours of service in the preceding twelve months.
  • They work at a location where the employer employs at least 50 employees in total. These individuals must work within 75 miles of the leave-seeking employee’s workplace.

Birthing individuals are among those eligible for FMLA. According to the Labor Department, FMLA includes:

  • Foster or adoptive parents.
  • Non-birthing parents who seek to bond with a kid must take leave within one year of the child’s birth or placement.
  • People who are required to provide care for a kid, spouse, or parent with a significant medical condition.
  • Workers have severe medical condition that stops them from performing their duties.

FMLA Resources

According to Balson, your HR department is frequently your best resource for FMLA information. “They will advise you on the necessary papers and guide you through the process,” explains Balson.

For instance, HR will certify your eligibility within five days of receiving the required evidence indicating your need for FMLA. If you are pregnant, you meet this requirement. But, your employer can tell you of other requirements, such as your length of service and their employee totals, that may impact your eligibility.

Your organization may not have a large HR department, or you may prefer to become acquainted with the procedure. The Department of Labor website is suggested by Gasparian. The organization offers a brief, straightforward fact sheet.

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