Key takeaways

  1. The FMLA allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons
  2. FMLA provides job protection and requires employers to maintain health insurance coverage during leave
  3. Eligible employees have the right to return to the same or equivalent job after leave
  4. Reasons for leave include birth/care of a child; adoption/foster placement; care of family member with serious health condition; and employee's own serious health condition

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be difficult to understand. Yet, it’s important to grasp the nuances of this federal law that safeguards your right to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. 

This guide sheds light on the finer details of the FMLA, helping you understand your rights and privileges under this crucial piece of legislation.

FMLA explained: What it is and who qualifies

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons, which is different from paid family leave. This includes:

  • The birth and care of a newborn child
  • Placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • Care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work due to a serious health condition.
  • Emergencies related to a family member’s active military duty

The purpose of FMLA

The primary objective of the FMLA is to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons. This can be a lifeline in times of need, providing job-protected time off for employees to attend to personal or family medical needs without the fear of losing their jobs.

Eligibility criteria

Not all employees are eligible for FMLA leave. The eligibility criteria are contingent on factors such as the size of the employer, length of employment, and hours worked over the past year. 

To be eligible, an employee must:

  • Have worked for their employer for at least 12 months
  • Have completed a minimum of 1,250 hours of work during the past 12 months
  • Work at a company where the employer has at least 50 employees

The eligibility criteria ensure that the FMLA covers those who have shown a certain level of commitment to their employer. Before requesting FMLA leave, employees must evaluate their eligibility to confirm they are covered.

Types of FMLA leave

The FMLA covers various types of leave, each catering to different life situations. These include:

  • Parental leave
  • Caring for a family member
  • The employee’s own health condition
  • Military family leave

This provision allows employees to take leave for various reasons, eliminating the fear of losing employment. 

Each type of leave has different requirements covering various circumstances, so it’s critical for employees to understand which type of leave applies to their situation. This understanding will enable them to utilize the FMLA protections effectively.

Parental leave

Parental leave under FMLA allows new parents to take time off to bond with their newborn or newly placed child without worrying about job security.

A parent can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. This leave can even be taken before the actual event (e.g., for pre-adoption proceedings or prenatal care). Both parents can take advantage of this leave, allowing them to spend time with their new child during this significant phase.

Caring for a family member

Caring for a family member under FMLA allows employees to take time off from work to care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition. This can involve physical or psychological support, allowing employees to assist their loved ones when needed.

FMLA defines a ‘serious health condition’ as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that necessitates inpatient care or ongoing treatment by a healthcare provider. 

Examples of serious health conditions include cancer, heart disease, stroke, mental health conditions, and many others. It’s important to note that this does not extend to in-laws or grandparents, reflecting the FMLA’s focus on immediate family.

Employee’s own health condition

Employees can also take FMLA leave for their own serious health conditions that prevent them from performing their jobs. These provisions allow employees to concentrate on their recovery without the stress of worrying about job security.

The employee must provide medical certification from a healthcare provider, including details of the health condition and its impact on their ability to work. In some cases, employees can also take intermittent leave, allowing them to take time off in separate chunks of time or on a reduced work schedule.

Military family leave

FMLA also provides provisions for military family leave, encompassing military caregiver leave and qualifying exigency leave. These provisions acknowledge the distinct challenges military families encounter and provide essential protections.

Military caregiver leave allows eligible employees to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness. 

Qualifying exigency leave allows employees to take leave for circumstances associated with a family member’s covered active duty or call to active duty. The eligible family members for military caregiver leave include:

  • spouse
  • son
  • daughter
  • parent
  • next of kin

Duration and intermittent leave

The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of leave per year, which can be taken all at once or, in some instances, on an intermittent basis. This flexibility enables employees to customize their leave based on their unique needs and circumstances.

Intermittent leave allows employees to:

  • Take leave in separate blocks of time
  • Reduce their usual work schedule
  • Handle their medical condition or family situation without the need for extended periods of leave

This type of sick leave is medically necessary or for qualifying exigency leave.

Maximum leave duration

The maximum duration of FMLA leave is 12 weeks within a 12-month period. This provides a significant amount of time for employees to attend to their own health or that of a family member.

However, there are some exceptions. In the case of military caregiver leave, eligible employees can take up to 26 work weeks of leave within a single 12-month period. This reflects the additional challenges military families face and provides them with the support they need.

Intermittent leave

Intermittent leave, as defined by FMLA, allows employees to take leave in separate time blocks or by reducing their usual work schedule. This can be useful for managing chronic conditions or for situations that require regular treatment.

To qualify for intermittent leave, it must be medically necessary for the employee’s own serious health condition to care for a family member with a serious health condition or a qualifying exigency arising from a family member’s covered military service. Employees should follow their employer’s usual procedures when requesting intermittent leave and provide sufficient information to justify their need for leave.

Applying for FMLA leave: Steps and documentation

Applying for FMLA leave involves a series of steps that must be followed to ensure compliance with the law. This process includes establishing eligibility, informing your employer about your need for leave, and submitting the required documentation to substantiate your request.

The documentation required for FMLA leave usually includes medical certification from a healthcare provider. Additional documentation may be required in some cases, such as adoption, foster care, or military family leave.

Requesting leave

When requesting FMLA leave, employees can provide notice either orally or in writing. They do not need to mention ‘FMLA leave’ explicitly when notifying their employer; it’s the employer’s responsibility to recognize the request as FMLA leave once the employee communicates the need for leave due to an FMLA-qualifying reason.

It’s recommended to provide written notice to your employer, including all relevant details, and follow any specific procedures your employer may have. Employees should provide notice as soon as possible, especially when the leave is foreseeable.

Required documentation

When applying for FMLA leave, employees will need to provide certain documentation. This usually includes medical certification from a healthcare provider, which should include details about the serious health condition and its impact on the employee’s ability to work.

Additional documentation may be required in certain situations, such as adoption, foster care, or military family leave, such as adoption or foster care placement papers or military orders. Employees should ensure they have all the necessary documentation ready before applying for FMLA leave to ensure a smooth process.

Employer responsibilities and employee rights

Under the FMLA, employers have certain responsibilities, and employees have certain rights. 

Employers are required to:

  • Provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons
  • Maintain the employee’s health insurance during their FMLA leave
  • Reinstate the employee to the same or an equivalent job after their FMLA leave

It’s also worth mentioning that any form of retaliation against employees for taking FMLA leave is illegal. This means that employers cannot fire, discipline, or discriminate against employees for taking or attempting to take FMLA leave or opposing any unlawful practice under the FMLA.

Job protection

One of the key protections offered by the FMLA is job protection. This means that eligible employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to return to the same or an equivalent job with the same pay, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.

However, there are some exceptions to this. For example, if an employee is laid off for reasons unrelated to the FMLA leave, or if the employee’s job is eliminated while they are on leave, the employer may not have to restore the employee to the same or an equivalent job.

Health insurance continuation

Under the FMLA, employers are also required to retain an employee’s health insurance coverage during their FMLA leave under the same terms as if the employee had continued to work. This means that employees can concentrate on their recovery or caring for a family member without the stress of losing their health insurance.

However, employees are required to continue to pay their share of any health insurance premiums during their FMLA leave. If an employee chooses not to return to work after their FMLA leave, the employer may have the right to recover the premiums they paid to maintain the employee’s health insurance during the leave.

Common FMLA misconceptions

Several common misconceptions about FMLA can lead to confusion. One of the most common is the belief that FMLA provides paid leave. FMLA leave is not paid; it merely guarantees job-protected, unpaid leave. Additionally, not all employees are eligible for FMLA leave.

There are specific eligibility criteria for covered employers, including the employer’s size and the employee’s length of service and hours worked.

Final word

The FMLA provides vital protections for employees, allowing them to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. Understanding these rights and the process to take advantage of them is crucial for every employee. Whether it’s to welcome a new child, care for a sick family member, recover from a personal health condition, or navigate the challenges of military service, FMLA ensures that employees don’t have to choose between their job and their family or health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the rules around FMLA?

Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year. To qualify for FMLA leave, an employee must work for a covered employer, have worked 1,250 hours during the prior 12 months, and have been employed with the employer for at least 12 months.

What is the purpose of FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for personal medical reasons or to care for family. This leave can be used in conjunction with paid leave, and employers must maintain group health benefits during the leave.

Do you get paid for FMLA in SC?

Employees in South Carolina are entitled to take unpaid leave under the FMLA. However, they may be allowed (or required) to use their accrued paid leave during this period. Upon completion of their FMLA leave, employees are entitled to be reinstated to their original or a similar position.

Can I take FMLA and then quit?

It is permissible to take FMLA and then quit; there is no requirement to remain on FMLA leave for a certain length of time.

What is the maximum duration of FMLA leave?

The maximum duration of FMLA leave is 12 weeks within a 12-month period.