Medical emergencies can happen at any time. Whether a loved one becomes ill or incapacitated, or you need time off to deal with your own medical condition, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is there to ensure that you have the ability to take time off without fear of losing your job.
The last thing you need while dealing with a serious medical situation is to worry about work, and the FMLA is there to ensure that employees are protected.
The FMLA provides 12 weeks of continuous or sporadic unpaid time off to provide care for a child, spouse or parent, or for the employee. It also provides for 26 weeks of time off to care for a qualifying member of the military who is suffering from an illness or injury. It can be used by men and women to bond with a new baby or adopted child, but in that case it must be used all at once unless the qualifying employee goes to part time employment while the 12 weeks are being used.
Even though the FMLA is a federally enacted law, some employees don’t understand whether they qualify and how they can utilize it while some employers don’t understand how the law works and what their responsibilities and obligations are.
Not all companies or employers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, just as not all employees qualify to use it, and this is why it’s important to understand the rules for both employers and employees.
Employers that are covered by the FMLA generally have over 50 employees. If a company does not have 50 employees it is still possible that state and local family and medical leave laws will apply. All government agencies at the federal, state and local level are covered by the FMLA, as well as employees at elementary and secondary schools.
Working for a company covered by the FMLA does not automatically qualify you for leave. Eligible employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and have completed 1250 hours of work in those 12 months. The final prong of the FMLA test is whether your employer has 50 or more employees in a 75 mile range of your workplace. If all of those criteria are met, then you would be considered eligible for FMLA leave.
How to Apply
As with any leave situation, notification is required for FMLA leave but it does depend on the nature of the leave. If you are having surgery you can provide advanced notice, for example, but if you are injured and incapacitated in a car accident you would not be able to provide advanced notice.
Leave can be taken to care for your own medical condition or for the needs of your child, spouse or parent. No matter the case, you are unable to work while providing this care.
The following are common types of medical leave taken under the FMLA:
- An overnight stay in the hospital
- A condition that keeps you or your family member out of school or work for 3 or more days that will also require ongoing treatment (which can be numerous appointments, or an appointment and follow-up care)
- Chronic conditions that require treatment at least twice a year
- Complications from pregnancy including prenatal appointments, morning sickness and bed rest
- Assisting a family member in the military who has been seriously injured or who is suffering from an illness
- Bonding with a newborn child or newly placed adopted child or foster care child
You might need to have a surgery that will keep you from being able to work for an extended period of time while you recover. You or a family member might need regular treatments like chemotherapy or dialysis. The FMLA is ideal for these situations.
The first step to requesting FMLA leave is to provide notice to your employer. For situations like surgeries, pregnancies or treatments that are known in advance, a 30-day notice is requested. Otherwise, you need to provide notice as soon as possible. For example, if you know you are having a baby in December then you can plan your leave accordingly, but if you are made aware in October that you need to be on bed rest starting immediately, then you would not be able to provide notice in advance.
The key is providing notice as soon as possible, but you must also follow your company’s absence system unless you have been incapacitated unexpectedly.
When you first request leave you need to provide as much information as possible about the situation so that your employer is aware that your request may fall under FMLA guidelines.
You do not have to reveal your diagnosis, but you do need to outline the reason you need the time off. For example, if your child has been diagnosed with measles then you can indicate that your child has been to the doctor and must remain out of school for three weeks.
After your initial request, your employer must respond within five days with your eligibility to receive FMLA leave along with whether or not you will be required to use paid medical or vacation leave.
Your employer can request certification for your condition, which is a report from a physician outlining you or your family member’s condition. The certification should include the physician’s contact information, a description of the facts surrounding the diagnosis including hospital stays and treatment, when the condition began, the expected duration of the condition, whether the condition requires you or your family member to receive ongoing care and whether you need to take ongoing time off or a few days at a time.
How an Employment Attorney Can Help
If your employer is covered by FMLA guidelines and you meet the qualifications for taking leave then there shouldn’t be any issue with receiving the time off you need. However, it can be difficult to obtain leave when there are questions about eligibility and that’s where an employment law attorney can help.
Employment law attorneys understand FMLA rights and protections and can help you navigate the complexities of the request process while also helping you should your request for leave be denied and you wish to file a claim against your employer.
Having an experienced advocate working on your behalf can be very helpful when you need to file a claim. There is a great deal of information that must be collected and presented, and while there is no guarantee that you will win your case if you hire an attorney, it will greatly improve your chances for a successful outcome.