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Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons, or for any "qualifying exigency” arising out of the fact that a covered military member is on active duty, or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty, in support of a contingency operation. The FMLA also allows eligible employees to take up to 26 workweeks of job-protected leave in a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness.
 
The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including joint employers and successors of covered employers.
 
It is unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain or deny the exercise of any right provided by the FMLA. It is also unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice, or because of involvement in any proceeding, related to the FMLA.
 
The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL's) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigates complaints of FMLA violations. If violations cannot be satisfactorily resolved, DOL may bring action in court to compel compliance. Individuals may also be able to bring a private civil action against an employer for violations.
 
To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:
  • work for a covered employer
  • have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months, and
  • work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.
While the 12 months of employment need not be consecutive, employment periods prior to a break in service of seven years or more need not be counted unless the break is occasioned by the employee’s fulfillment of his or her National Guard or Reserve military obligation, as protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), or a written agreement, including a collective bargaining agreement, exists concerning the employer’s intention to rehire the employee after the break in service.

Leave Entitlement

A covered employer must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
  • for the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee,
  • for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care,
  • to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition,
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition, or
  • for qualifying exigencies arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on active duty or call to active duty status as a member of the National Guard or Reserves in support of a contingency operation.
A covered employer also must grant an eligible employee who is a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of a current member of the Armed Forces, including a member of the National Guard or Reserves, with a serious injury or illness up to a total of 26 workweeks of unpaid leave during a single 12-month period to care for the servicemember.
 
A serious health condition under the FMLA means an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves either:
  • inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical-care facility, including any period of incapacity or subsequent treatment in connection with such inpatient care, or
  • continuing treatment by a health care provider, which includes:
    • a period of incapacity lasting more than three consecutive, full calendar days, and any subsequent treatment or period of incapacity relating to the same condition that also includes either:
      • treatment two or more times by or under the supervision of a health care provider (i.e., in-person visits, the first within 7 days and both within 30 days of the first day of incapacity) or
      • one treatment by a health care provider (i.e., an in-person visit within 7 days of the first day of incapacity) with a continuing regimen of treatment (e.g., prescription medication, physical therapy),
    • any period of incapacity related to pregnancy or for prenatal care (A visit to the health care provider is not necessary for each absence),
    • any period of incapacity or treatment for a chronic serious health condition which continues over an extended period of time, requires periodic visits (at least twice a year) to a health care provider, and may involve occasional episodes of incapacity (A visit to a health care provider is not necessary for each absence),
    • a period of incapacity that is permanent or long-term due to a condition for which treatment may not be effective (In this case, only supervision by a health care provider is required, rather than active treatment), or
    • any absences to receive multiple treatments for restorative surgery or for a condition that would likely result in a period of incapacity of more than three days if not treated.
Spouses employed by the same employer are limited in the amount of family leave they may take for the birth and care of a newborn child, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or to care for a parent who has a serious health condition to a combined total of 12 workweeks (or 26 workweeks if leave to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness is also used). Leave for birth and care, or placement for adoption or foster care, must conclude within 12 months of the birth or placement.
 
Under some circumstances, employees may take FMLA leave intermittently, taking leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason or on a reduced leave schedule, reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule. When leave is needed for planned medical treatment, the employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the employer’s operation. If FMLA leave is for birth and care, or placement for adoption or foster care, use of intermittent leave is subject to the employer's approval.
 
Under certain conditions, employees or employers may choose to substitute accrued paid leave to cover some or all of the FMLA leave. An employee’s ability to substitute accrued paid leave is determined by the terms and conditions of the employer’s normal leave policy.

Job Restoration and Maintenance of Health Benefits

Upon return from FMLA leave, an employee must be restored to the employee’s original job, or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. An employee’s use of FMLA leave cannot result in the loss of any employment benefit that the employee earned or was entitled to before using FMLA leave, nor be counted against the employee under a no fault attendance policy. If a bonus or other payment, however, is based on the achievement of a specified goal such as hours worked, products sold or perfect attendance, and the employee has not met the goal due to FMLA leave, payment may be denied unless it is paid to an employee on equivalent leave status for a reason that does not qualify as FMLA leave. An employee has no greater right to restoration or to other benefits and conditions of employment than if the employee had been continuously employed.
 
A covered employer is required to maintain group health insurance coverage for an employee on FMLA leave whenever such insurance was provided before the leave was taken and on the same terms as if the employee had continued to work. If applicable, arrangements will need to be made for employees to pay their share of health insurance premiums while on leave. In some instances, the employer may recover premiums it paid to maintain health coverage for an employee who fails to return to work from FMLA leave.
 
Salaried executive, administrative and professional employees of covered employers who meet the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) criteria for exemption from minimum wage and overtime do not lose their FLSA-exempt status by using any unpaid FMLA leave.

Notice and Certification

Employee Notice
 
Employees seeking to use FMLA leave are required to provide 30-day advance notice of the need to take FMLA leave when the need is foreseeable and such notice is practicable. If leave is foreseeable less than 30 days in advance, the employee must provide notice as soon as practicable: generally, either the same or next business day. When the need for leave is not foreseeable, the employee must provide notice to the employer as soon as practicable under the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Absent unusual circumstances, employees must comply with the employer’s usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave.
 
Employees must provide sufficient information for an employer reasonably to determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request. Depending on the situation, such information may include that the employee is incapacitated due to pregnancy, has been hospitalized overnight, is unable to perform the functions of the job, and/or that the employee or employee’s qualifying family member is under the continuing care of a health care provider.
 
When an employee seeks leave for a FMLA-qualifying reason for the first time, the employee need not expressly assert FMLA rights or even mention the FMLA. When an employee seeks leave, however, due to a FMLA-qualifying reason for which the employer has previously provided the employee FMLA-protected leave, the employee must specifically reference either the qualifying reason for leave or the need for FMLA leave.
 
Employer Notice
 
Covered employers must post a notice meeting regulatory requirements which explains rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. An employer that willfully violates this posting requirement may be subject to a civil money penalties for each separate offense. Additionally, employers must either include this general notice in employee handbooks or other written guidance to employees concerning benefits, or must distribute a copy of the notice to each new employee upon hiring.
 
When an employee requests FMLA leave or the employer acquires knowledge that leave may be for a FMLA purpose, the employer must notify the employee of his or her eligibility to take leave, and inform the employee of his/her rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. When the employer has enough information to determine that leave is being taken for a FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer must notify the employee that the leave is designated and will be counted as FMLA leave.

Certification

Employers may require that an employee’s request for leave due to a serious health condition affecting the employee or a covered family member be supported by a certification from a health care provider. An employer may require second or third medical opinions (at the employer's expense) and periodic recertification of a serious health condition. An employer may use a health care provider, a human resource professional, a leave administrator, or a management official (but not the employee’s direct supervisor) to authenticate or clarify a medical certification of a serious health condition. An employer may have a uniformly applied policy requiring employees returning from leave for their own serious health condition to submit a certification that they are able to resume work. If reasonable safety concerns exist, an employer may, under certain circumstances, require such a certification for employees returning from intermittent FMLA leave.
 
If you're an employer covered by the FMLA and would like assistance in complying with the law, contact John Little, Attorney at Law, PC.