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Family Medical Leave Act: It’s Not Just Sick Pay


No one should have to choose between caring for family and having a job. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible workers the right to care for family members without suffering retaliation from employers.

(Photo Credit: US Department of Labor/Flickr) 

It happens; people get sick. The FMLA is designed to ensure people can take care of their families when it becomes necessary, and still keep their jobs.

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Leave Entitlement

The Department of Labor explains that eligible employees may take up to twelve workweeks of FMLA leave in any twelve-month period. This means that the twelve workweeks do not have to occur during the same calendar year, but rather, the twelve week period may begin in December and end in March. 

Qualifying reasons to take FMLA time off from work include: 

  • The birth of a child or placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care, this applies to both moms and dads;
  • To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job, meaning you can take FMLA time because you are sick; and 
  • For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.

Employees may take up to 26 weeks in any twelve-month period to care for a covered service member in their family.


If you take time off under the FMLA, you have the right to come back to your same or equivalent job; your employer may not demote you, lower your pay, or remove your benefits.

If you have group health insurance at work, your employer must continue your benefits as if you had not taken time off from work. 

If it is medically necessary for an employee to take intermittent FMLA leave, the employer must allow it. The employee, however, must make a reasonable effort to work with the employer and schedule treatment and leave in a way to cause the least disruption for the employer. 

Your employer is allowed to require you to take accrued paid leave while you are taking FMLA time off from work. Your employer is not required by law to make you use accrued vacation or sick time, but may do at his discretion. You may also opt to receive accrued sick pay or vacation pay, and some employees do this because FMLA is unpaid. Even if you use vacation pay during your FMLA leave, all protections under the FMLA continue to apply. 

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