FMLA—an important resource to know about

You may be familiar with some forms of paid time off—like vacation or sick days—that allow you to take days off from work when you want or need to. What you may not be familiar with, however, is your right to take time off from work without pay. If you or an immediate family member is dealing with a serious health condition or if you are welcoming a new child to your family, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may provide you with unpaid time off while securing your job in many situations.

How can the FMLA help me?

The FMLA is a federal law that allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work over a 12-month period for certain medical or family reasons. Here’s how the FMLA can help:

  • Your group health insurance benefits will be maintained during your time off provided that you pay your portion of the premium.
  • You are guaranteed your same job—or an equivalent job with similar responsibilities and the same pay and benefits—when you return from your leave, as long as you return before your leave is exhausted.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering using the FMLA:

  • You may choose to—or your employer may require you to—use any accrued paid time off during your leave. For example, you may choose to use vacation days to continue to receive some pay for your first week away from work under the FMLA.
  • You may be eligible to receive income from other sources, such as short-term disability, workers’ compensation, or state disability income benefits.
  • You could still lose your job during your leave due to things like general layoffs.

For what reasons can I take time off with the FMLA?

You can use the FMLA to take time to:

  • care for your new baby, adopted child, or a foster child newly placed in your home,
  • care for a son, daughter, parent, or spouse who has a serious health condition, or
  • focus on your recovery if you are diagnosed with a serious health condition that makes you unable to perform your job responsibilities.

There are other reasons, not included here, for which FMLA leave may be used.  For a complete list, please visit the Department of Justice website.

What does it mean to have a “serious” health condition?

A serious health condition is defined as:

  • incapacity due to pregnancy or prenatal care,
  • any illness, injury, condition, or impairment that requires an overnight stay at a hospital or that keeps you or a family member from your daily activities (like school or work) for three days or more during which time you are receiving treatment for your condition, or
  • a chronic condition that causes occasional periods of incapacity and requires medical treatment more than twice per year.

Do I have to take the 12 weeks all at once?

It’s up to you. You can:

  • take the 12-week period (or any portion of it) consecutively,
  • spread the 12 weeks over a 12-month period (referred to as intermittent leave), or
  • reduce the number of days or hours you work within a 12-month period.1

If you take intermittent or reduced -schedule leave, your employer may temporarily transfer you to another job with the same pay and benefits that better accommodates this type of leave. 

You need your employer’s approval to take either intermittent or reduced-schedule leave to care for a new baby, an adopted child, or a foster child newly placed in your home.1

How do I know if I’m eligible for FMLA benefits?

To be eligible for FMLA benefits, you need to:

  • have worked for your employer for at least 12 months (consecutive or nonconsecutive), and in the last 12 months have put in at least 1,250 hours,
  • have worked at a location where your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace, and
  • have worked for a covered employer (see below).1

How do I know if I work for a covered employer?

You work for a covered employer if:

  • you work in a public sector job or any public or private elementary or high school, or
  • you work in the private sector and  your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace who worked for 20 or more weeks during the current or previous year.1

The FMLA can help you protect what you love about your life by allowing you to take the time off you need while protecting your job.

1., “The Family and Medical Leave Act,” accessed February 1, 2015,

Sources:, “The Family and Medical Leave Act,” accessed February 1, 2015,

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SLPC 26410 03/15 (exp. 03/17)

This article is not intended to and does not provide legal advice. 

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