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FMLA: What You Need to Know


The main purpose of FMLA or the Family and Medical Leave Act is to help employees balance work and personal/familial needs. By way of the FMLA, you can take up to 12 weeks leave in any 12-month period for personal or an immediate family member’s medical exigencies, expansion of family, or for matters arising out of a family member’s call for military duty. If you’re thinking about taking FMLA, there are things you need to know in order to make sure you get the coverage you’re entitled to.


(Photo Credit: JodyDigger/Flickr)

To understand how FMLA applies to you specifically, it is important to know what is defined as a serious health condition and who constitutes immediate family members. The definition could be different from state to state. Please refer to the DOL guidelines and talk to your local HR representative to understand what would be applicable for your personal situation.

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That said, there are a few basic things you should know about FMLA:


  • Private employers: The act applies to private employers with 50 or more employees. Where the number is less than 50, there’s still a possibility that state family and medical leave laws will apply. For more information on your state’s laws, click here.
  • Government Agencies: Irrespective of the number of employees, all government agencies (local, state, federal) are covered by the FMLA.
  • Employee: To be covered by the act, you should be employed with the eligible employer for a minimum period of 12 months before requesting FMLA. An additional condition is that you should have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in those 12 months. You should also be working at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your worksite.  

Duration and Pay

FMLA leave is unpaid. If you are covered under the FMLA, you may be able to take up to 12 weeks of time off per year. That period can extend to up to 26 weeks to care for family members’ injury or illness while on military duty. FMLA can be combined with other leaves you may have accrued if your organization provides for it. If you can be paid for those leaves, then the same applies when you club them with FMLA. You can take FMLA leave all at once, in multiple, small blocks of time or through a part-time arrangement if medically necessary. You may however need to provide a medical certification if your employer so requires it.

Application Process

Please check with your HR department or manager to understand the organization-specific protocol for applying for leaves. In general, if your FMLA need is foreseeable (pregnancy, adoption, surgery) then you are expected to give at least 30 days of advance notice. If, however, your need is of an urgent nature, let your employer know as soon as possible. While you do not have to specifically ask for FMLA leave, you do need share enough information with your employer so they are prepared that it may be covered by the FMLA. If you don’t give your employer enough information to know that your leave may be covered by the FMLA, your leave may not be protected. 

Job Status

Your job will not be at risk and you will return at the same level as you were at, before the leave. Your health insurance coverage status with your employer should not change as well. However, you may or may not be able to return to the same job, depending on how your employer’s business needs have changed. The law creates an exception for certain key employees, in that they may not be guaranteed to be reinstated in their current position. A key employee is defined as among the highest paid 10 percent of all employees working for the employer within 75 miles of the employee’s work site. If you are one of them, your employer should tell you this when you request leave. (Source: US Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division)

Disclaimer: The article is meant for informational purposes only. Please reach out to company’s leave administration/HR department and refer to the (state and federal) department of labor’s resources to understand the applicability to your individual case.

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Have you ever had trouble taking legally protected leave? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Padmaja Ganeshan Singh
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