How to Use FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) When You Need Time Off Work

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Enacted in 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a national law that requires covered employers to grant eligible workers unpaid, job-protected leave in the event of medical or family emergencies. The federal mandate provides guidelines for employers seeking to maintain the operation of their organizations while permitting the workforce time off from work. Depending on the circumstances, FMLA can provide up to 26 workweeks of leave within a 12-month period.

Covered Employers

The law applies to all elementary and secondary private and public school employers as well as public agencies regardless of the number of employees. A private-sector organization is considered a covered employer if it has 50 or more workers on its payroll for 20 or more workweeks during the previous or current year.

Eligible Employees

The first requirement is that you must work for a covered employer. The person applying for time off must work within 75 miles of the location where the employer has workers that established its designation as a covered employer. In addition to working for the employer at least 12 months, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the leave date. The law also applies to seasonal workers because there is no requirement that the 12 months be consecutive. The government has established special rules that apply to airline flight crew employees.

Familial Relationships and Permissible Time Off

The maximum leave time will vary based upon the event. Eligible employees who need to care for a seriously ill or injured covered member of the armed forces can take off up to 26 workweeks. The covered service member can be on active duty or a veteran. The employee must be the service member’s next-of-kin, parent, spouse or child to qualify for the extended leave. Up to 12 workweeks are available for the birth or adoption of a child as well a personal serious health issue that prevents you from working or the poor health of your spouse or a child.

Advance Notice and Supporting Documents

The law includes a 30-day advance notice provision for employees planning to use FMLA for foreseeable events, such as the adoption or the birth of a child as well as foster care placement. Employers can request copies of documents like birth certificates and other official papers that support your application. During this 30-day period, the employer will determine whether the claim meets the FMLA criteria. If a 30-day notice is not practicable due to the unpredictable nature of the event, employees should submit their applications as soon as possible. If you took leave due to own serious health condition, your employer may require a medical release that confirms your ability to return to work.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Use FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) When You Need Time Off Work," in, January 26, 2016, (accessed August 17, 2022).