We’ve heard a lot about the Family and Medical Leave in the news recently. Virgin owner Richard Branson recently announced his company will allow moms and dads to split up to 50 weeks of leave time for paternity leave. Not all companies will provide that generous of a plan but with the Family Medical Leave Act qualified employees are guaranteed leave time.
Nancy Richardson, an family law attorney with Stewart Melvin & Frost, helps answer some questions about Family and Medical Leave.
Question: Nancy, will you give us the history of the Family and Medical Leave Act?
Nancy: The law (federal) has been in effect since 1993. It requires covered employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.
The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed with the intention to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.
Under the act, qualified employees are guaranteed 12 work weeks of unpaid leave time in a 12-month period.
The Department of Labor says an employee must be restored to the employee’s original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Question: Let’s look at it first from an employer’s standpoint. What are the criteria for employers to be covered by Family and Medical Leave?
Nancy: A covered employer is a:
• Private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer;
• Public agency, including a local, state, or federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or
• Public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.
Question: What makes an employee eligible to be covered by FMLA?
Nancy: First, an employee needs to work for a covered employer. They have to have worked there for at least 12 months. During the 12-month period, they have to have worked at least 1,250 hours immediately preceding the leave request. For someone who works an eight-hour day, that translates to approximately 156 days.
For obvious reasons, an employee may want to use (or an employer may require it) their accrued, paid leave time before using the unpaid leave time. Using the paid time off does not count against your Family and Medical Leave time. If the employee is covered under an employer’s health insurance plan, coverage is continued at the same cost to the employee during the leave.
Question: For employees what life events are eligible for leave time under the Family and Medical Leave Act?
Nancy: Birth of a child is what most people think of when talking about Family and Medical Leave. You are allowed the leave time for the birth of a child and to care for and bond with the newborn child within one year of birth. Adoption or foster care placement is also covered, as is care for the newly placed child within one year of placement – again to promote bonding with the child.
You can take the leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition. And take the time to recuperate yourself if you have a health condition that keeps you from performing the essential functions of your job. Longer leave time is available for the care of a military member on covered active duty who has a serious injury or illness. Military caregiver leave allows 26 weeks of leave time over a 12 month period.