The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take time off for certain reasons, if they work for a covered employer. The catch is that not every employee is eligible, not every employer is covered by the law, and not every reason for leave qualifies for FMLA protection.
What Leave Does the FMLA Allow?
The FMLA gives employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for the following reasons:
- to care for a new child (whether biological, adopted, or foster)
- for the employee's own serious health condition
- to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or
- to handle certain matters arising out of a family member's call to active military duty (called "qualifying exigencies").
Employees can take a longer period of leave -- up to 26 weeks -- to care for a family member who is seriously injured while on active military duty. Unlike the 12-week leave entitlement (which renews every 12 months), this longer leave is available only once per injury, per servicemember. An employee who is unlucky enough to have more than one family member injured while on active duty, or one family member injured twice while on active duty, would be entitled to another period of leave. Otherwise, however, this leave is available only once.
The FMLA covers the federal government, state and local governments, and public and private elementary schools and secondary schools.
Private employers are covered by the FMLA if they have at least 50 employees on the payroll during any 20 weeks of the current or previous year. This includes full-time employees, part-time employees, and employees who are on leave, as long as the company reasonably expects them to return to work.
Not every employee of a covered employer is entitled to the protections of the FMLA. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they:
- work at a worksite that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius
- have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and
- have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months immediately before taking leave.
The hours requirement is different for flight attendants and flight crew members: These employees are eligible if they have worked at least 60% of their total monthly guarantee in the past 12 months and have worked or been paid for at least 504 hours (not including leave, vacation, or commute time) during that period. If not for these modifications, passed in 2009, most flight attendants and crew members wouldn't qualify for leave because of the way their work hours are calculated.
Employees are entitled to take leave only if they haven't used up all of their leave already. Employees may take only 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period. An employee has already taken 12 weeks of leave isn't entitled to more until a new leave year begins.