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Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, provides covered employees with the right to unpaid, “job protected” leave for up to 12 weeks during a qualifying 12-month period. The law defines which employers must provide this type of leave to employees who have certain types of health conditions or need to take care of an immediate family member with such a condition.

While clearly a step forward in expanding workers’ rights, the act does not cover all employees who need to obtain urgent care for themselves or others.

Employees Covered by the FMLA

To qualify for this coverage, an employee:

  • Must have worked 1,250 hours for a qualifying employer during the previous 12-month period (such periods should have been previously designated by the employer);
  • Must have worked in the U.S., or one of its territories or possessions, in a location where the employer has at least 50 employees working within a 75-mile area. (The number of employees includes part-time, temporary and full-time workers.)


Eligibility after employment interruption
Q: I began working full time on a special project for a major corporation last summer and stayed until the project was completed. I then took other work for 90 days. I returned to the first job six months ago and now need to take leave under the FMLA to care for my son. According to my employer, I’ve worked more than 1,400 hours during these two time periods. Am I covered under the FMLA, or does the period of service have to be continuous in order to take such leave?
A: The period of service does not have to be continuous, and you have worked for more than the required number of hours. You should be eligible for FMLA leave. If you had not worked at least 1,250 hours during those two periods of employment, you still might have been covered under your state’s family-leave statutes. Workers should always remember that they should research both federal and state family-leave statutes before assuming that no leave is available. A local attorney can help you perform such research.

Approved Reasons for Leave

Most employees request FMLA leave to attend to their own health condition or that of an immediate family member. However, the act also allows an employee to take time off when adopting a child, giving birth or seeking foster care or other placement for a child.

Generally, covered employees may request leave because of their own health condition or that of an immediate family member if the condition involves:

  • Hospitalization
  • Time off from work for critical medical treatments
  • Ongoing care for one or more serious chronic medical conditions
  • A need for ongoing supervision of medical care


Leave status after hospital stay
Q: I suddenly suffered an allergic reaction to a newly prescribed medication and was rushed to a hospital, where I spent three days and nights. I was then sent to a special medical facility for rehabilitation. My employer says I didn’t have an illness covered by the FMLA. What should I do?
A: Based on the facts presented, you qualify for FMLA leave. The act refers to illnesses like yours, which require at least one night of hospitalization or other residential medical-facility treatment. Speak with your employer again. Be ready to produce proper medical evidence of your condition and treatment period. If necessary, seek legal help.

Care for father-in-law
Q: My wife’s father lives with us and recently returned from the hospital needing extensive care. My wife does not want to send him to a nursing home, but she cannot care for him herself. I want to help by taking time off from my job under the FMLA. Am I considered a close-enough relative to take such leave?
A: Unfortunately, the FMLA does not cover an employee wanting to care for a “parent-in-law.” Given your circumstances, you should speak with an attorney to see if some state statute might cover you if no other federal statute can provide you with the appropriate support.

Employers Required to Provide FMLA Leave

In addition to schools, the FMLA covers federal, state and local employers and agencies. Private employers engaged in commerce that currently employ at least 50 workers for 20 or more work weeks (or did so during the most recent calendar year) must also provide unpaid FMLA leave. Most employers are considered engaged in commerce for purposes of this statute.

Amendment Regarding Military Service

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008 has amended the FMLA by permitting a spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin to take up to 26 work weeks of leave to care for an injured or seriously ill member of the armed forces.

Last updated: Sept. 30, 2008

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