Did you know there are approximately 53 million Americans who are serving as caregivers for a loved one—and 60% of them are also working? At some point, the responsibility of caring for a loved one and earning a living simultaneously could become overwhelming—that’s where the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) comes in.
The FMLA is a labor law that requires certain employers to provide employees with unpaid time off to handle serious personal or family health problems or care situations.
Furthermore, under the act’s anti-retaliation provisions, employers aren’t allowed to take adverse action against employees who use FMLA leave and can’t count FMLA leave days against no-fault attendance policies.
The purpose of the FMLA is that individuals don’t need to choose between their job and their family.
So, who qualifies for FMLA leave, what are they entitled to, and how can someone request it?
Firstly, it’s important to note that all public agencies, such as schools, must follow FMLA rules despite the size of the business.
However, employees working in the private sector must qualify within a set of guidelines. For an employee to qualify for FMLA leave, the business they work for must employ at least 50 people that work within a 75-mile radius of the worksite. An employee of the company needs to have been employed for a minimum of 1,250 hours within the prior 12 months.
Qualified reasons may include adoption, pregnancy, foster care placement, family or personal illness, or military leave. Those who qualify are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave yearly and may retain their health benefits coverage.
Military servicemembers and their families have a slightly different set of coverage under the FMLA.
How are Servicemembers Covered?
While coverage for a servicemember is relatively the same as a civilian’s, there are differences. For example, if a servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin requires FMLA leave, they are entitled to up to 26 weeks of leave rather than the usual 12 weeks.
Care under the FMLA for a covered servicemember includes:
- A servicemember receiving medical treatment.
- A servicemember recuperating from a medical treatment or injury.
- A servicemember with an outpatient status.
- A servicemember on the temporary disability retired list for a serious injury or illness.
How to Request FMLA Leave
The process of requesting FMLA leave is actually quite simple. In the event of foreseeable absences, an employee must provide their employer with the intended dates of leave no less than 30 days in advance. An example of a foreseeable absence is knowing you’ll need to care for a loved one following a scheduled surgery.
However, if you need to care for a family member after an emergency, it is recommended that the employer is notified as soon as possible.
After receiving notice, an employer must notify an employee whether they are eligible for FMLA leave within five business days. The employer must also provide the employee with FMLA rights and responsibilities, in addition to any request for certification.
Within 15 calendar days, the employee must provide the certification if required. At this point in time, the employer has five days to inform the employee if their request is approved or denied.
Learn more about FMLA
Keep in mind that while FMLA leave is unpaid, there are state laws that require employers to provide some form of payment. Seven states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have laws that provide paid time off for caregivers through tax-funded family-leave programs. Oregon and Colorado are set to launch similar programs in the next couple of years. If you’d like more information on FMLA, consider working with a professional employer organization (PEO) like VensureHR. As HR experts, it’s the job of the PEO to assure compliance. PEOs also provide a range of free resources like business owners’ guides, evaluation templates, and burnout handbooks.