What is the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act, nicknamed the FMLA, provides employees of most 50+ person companies with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave — including health benefits — on a rolling 12-month basis, which can either be a calendar or fiscal year.

How does FMLA leave work?

Eligible employees can use their time all at once or chunk it out into separate blocks of time. In most cases, the period of time lasts for up to 12 weeks. However, a provision for military caregiver leave allows next of kin up to 26 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured person who served.

Here are the three main reasons people take FMLA leave:

  1. To look after their own health issues.
  2. To bond with newborns or newly adopted children.
  3. To care for sick or injured immediate family members.

Keep in mind that the FMLA requires you to provide unpaid leave. As an employer, you have the opportunity to go above and beyond with your leave benefits, and therefore you can offer people paid time off for many of the types of leave packed into the Act. Sadly, a lot of employees don’t take the time off because they can’t afford to say goodbye to their paychecks for such a wide window of time. That’s why the majority of employers provide some sort of paid time off in addition to the flat amount of time that the FMLA mandates.

Does the FMLA apply to my company?

The Act typically applies to your company if you’ve had 50 or more employees on staff for at least 20 workweeks this year or last.

How do I comply with the FMLA?

Make a copy of WH Publication 1420 available, which is a poster that explains what employees’ rights are under the FMLA.

Information about the FMLA should also be included in any employee handbooks or other materials. If not, a copy about their rights must be provided if any employee submits a request for leave.

There are also a few more things to watch out for. States may grant employees additional leave in specific circumstances. In some situations, the FMLA may overlap with other legislation, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — both of which apply to employers with 15 or more employees. So be sure you check everything that’s out there, depending on what’s going on with your employees.

Once you’ve established that an employee is taking FMLA leave, you must provide written notice to that person explaining any expectations you have. Make sure this letter is sent within one or two business days from the date that they request the time off. Form WH-381, “Employer Response to Employee Request for Family or Medical Leave,” covers all the key information you need to address.

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