FMLA stands for Family and Medical Leave Act, which was signed into U.S. law in 1993. The act requires certain employers to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period without losing their job. The leave must be taken for covered reasons, which include the adoption or birth of a new baby, serious illness of the employee, or serious illness of a member of the employee's immediate family. Immediate family includes the employee's spouse, child, or parent. The act was amended in January 2009, extending the time allowed to 26 weeks for employees who are caring for a family member who is an active-duty member of the U.S. military.
The FMLA was designed to protect jobs for employees who were faced with serious illness, and to allow new parents to balance the demands of work and home life. Under the FMLA, a covered employer must either retain the employee's job, or provide another position that has the same responsibilities and pay. The employee's benefits must also be reinstated once he or she returns to work, and the act forbids any type of retaliatory action by the employer against the employee for taking leave.
Employees are usually required to submit medical documentation relating to illness or birth of a child, and adoption paperwork if the leave is being taken for adoption. Your company will usually request at least 30 days notice whenever possible, in order to minimize the disruption of your absence on the workflow of the business.
The FMLA does not apply to all businesses and employers. To be covered under the act, the employer must have at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of the location where the covered employee works, or the location where the business is headquartered. In addition, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least a year, and must have worked a minimum of 1250 hours in the preceding 12 months.
Since the FMLA only requires that the employer provide unpaid leave, the decision to pay the employee will be determined by company policy. If the employee has vacation, holiday, or paid sick time, some companies will require the employee to apply this time to the FMLA absence; you must check with your human resources department for specifics about whether you qualify for FMLA and how your company applies FMLA rules.
If your workplace is not a covered employer, they are not required to follow FMLA guidelines, but many smaller companies have similar leave policies in place for their employees. In addition, some company policies offer benefits beyond the minimum FMLA requirements. Since the 1980s employers of all sizes, in order to retain quality staff, have become more accommodating to employees raising and caring for families. If you are facing a major illness, check with your supervisor about how your company may be able to help you retain your position while you are ill.