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An employee’s rights under the FMLA

Anyone who has welcomed a new child or has taken care of a relative with health problems knows that sometimes work has to take a backseat to family. Congress also recognized this and passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, also known as the FMLA, more than two decades ago.

Under the FLMA, employees in all 50 states are permitted to take a certain amount of unpaid leave to take care of qualifying personal situations while having their jobs protected. This means the employee does not have to fear losing his or her job while out on leave.

The federal law permits workers to take as many as 12 weeks off of work per year when facing special personal situations, including:

  • When a parent, spouse or child is suffering from a medical condition or illness and requires or would benefit from care provided by the employee.
  • The employee welcomes a child through birth, adoption or foster care.
  • The employee cannot work due to a serious health condition.
  • Note: When care is being provided to a member of the military, the length of leave can be extended up to 26 weeks. There are also special leave provisions that apply when associated with commercial airline pilots and flight crew members.

In order for the FMLA to apply, an employee must work for a “covered employer” (discussed here) and must also:

  1. have worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
  2. have provided at least 1,250 hours of service during the 12 months prior to the leave; and
  3. be employed at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

Employers are allowed to ask for documentation that verifies the need for leave, so long as the documentation does not include confidential data.

In many cases, employers are familiar with FLMA policies and the process goes smoothly. However, there are also cases in which employers refuse to recognize the employee rights provided by the FMLA. In these cases, employees should consult with an experienced attorney who can make sure the employee’s rights are protected. 

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