Family Medical Leave Act Guide

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Family Medical Leave Act Guide

             You’re considering taking time off for health reasons or you’re reevaluating your current job’s benefits. Something about Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) came up, or you need to take FMLA. That’s why you’re here, right? Welcome to your simplified FMLA guide. We’re going to briefly take you through the ins and outs of FMLA by discussing the basis of what it is, what it isn’t, and some of the most common FMLA myths. As a plus, we’ll do this in a way that won’t make you pull your hair out! Let’s get started, shall we?

Part I – Family Medical Leave Act: What It Is

             FMLA is short for Family Medical Leave Act. It’s a federal law that guarantees qualified employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year. California has its own law that offers all the FMLA protections and adds a few more rights. It is called the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) and it protects workers’ rights to leave in California. When FMLA leave is taken, the employer can’t fire the employee because they took leave, the employer must continue to furnish health benefits just as if the employee was still working. There are some restrictions, however.

             First of all, the employee must work for a covered employer. Employers must comply with FMLA regulations if:

  • the employer is a state, federal, or local public agency
  • the employer is a private company that employed 50+ employees for 20 or more workweeks this year or last year

             To be eligible for FMLA, the employee must meet individual regulations:

  • the employee must currently work for a covered employer
  • the employee must have worked for the covered employer for 12 or more months and, at a minimum, 1,250 hours during the 12 months before FMLA is used
  • the employee must work at a location where 50+ employees work, or the employee must work within 75 miles of a location where 50+ employees work

             When an eligible employee wants to use FMLA benefits, he or she must fall into one of the following categories:

  • employee is taking FMLA for the birth of a child or care of a newborn child within one year of the child’s birth
  • employee is taking care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • employee has a serious health condition that makes him or her unable to do the vital functions of his or her job
  • employee is the spouse, child, or parent of a military service member on covered active duty who retains a qualifying exigency
  • the employee has been appointed as a foster care or adoptive guardian, and FMLA is being requested within one year of such placement

             If you qualify based on one of the following conditions, then you are eligible for 12 workweeks of leave within a single 12-month period per FMLA.

Many people don’t know what I’m about to tell you, but there’s another, lesser-known condition for FMLA eligibility:

  • If an employee is a spouse, child, parent, or next of kin who is caring for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness, then that employee can be granted up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave during one 12 month period.
  • Family Medical Leave Act also was affected by a recent ruling regarding same sex couples. The word “spouse” now covers partners of legal same-sex marriage.

             Let’s recap: Thus far, you’ve learned what FMLA really is. You’ve learned which employers must comply with FMLA, as well as which employees can become eligible for FMLA. You’ve also learned what makes you eligible for FMLA. With everything organized so neatly, FMLA might seem like a piece of cake. Still, it’s one of the most complicated things that employees and employers alike have to deal with. Although it’s there to protect employees, FMLA can be a challenge.

             FMLA regulations can become an obstacle standing between you and unpaid leave benefits. In the next section, we’re going to cover the other end of FMLA. We’ll talk about what FMLA can’t help you with, as well as some of the most common FMLA myths.

Part II – Family Medical Leave Act: What It Isn’t

             What’s the word on the street about Family Medical Leave Act these days? There are a lot of common misconceptions about this federal law, and we’re going to try to clear some of these up. If you have a clear understanding of the Family Medical Leave Act, then some of these things might seem pretty straightforward. If some of this things don’t seem so obvious, don’t be worried – even experts get confused on some of these areas. So, we’re going to cover exactly what FMLA doesn’t mean to you right now. Ready? Here’s exactly what FMLA isn’t:

  1. Automatic
    You can’t just go out on unpaid leave and expect to be covered by the FMLA. You’ll need to request the appropriate application from your employer. You’ll be required to furnish the appropriate medical documentation to support your claim. Then, your employer will review your application. Lastly, you’ll either be approved or denied.
  2. Paid leave
    Many people misconceive that FMLA is the equivalent to money, but this isn’t true. FMLA has nothing to do with your pay. In fact, the only payment that it covers is your medical benefits. Your employer should continue to pay for your medical benefits just as if you were still working. You might have the option, or be forced to, use your saved vacation and sick leave simultaneously as you are using FMLA.
  3. A sure thing
    Your employer doesn’t necessarily have to grant you leave based on FMLA. First, your employer must meet the eligibility requirements set forth by FMLA. You, as an employee, must also meet eligibility criteria for consideration. Lastly, you must have an eligible reason for taking leave via FMLA.
  4. A restriction
    When you have been approved for FMLA, you aren’t bound to any restrictions. This isn’t like the time you called in sick because you wanted to be first in line for the latest iPhone. You don’t have to be on bed rest in fear of your employer finding out that you aren’t really sick. At this point, you have a well-established reason for taking the FMLA, and your employer’s rights don’t go any further. There is one exception: your employer does have the right to set forth restrictions on outside employment.
  5. For minor conditions
    You have the flu. You’re having a flare up of psoriasis. These won’t do the trick for FMLA. A broken bone might not even meet the criteria. You must have a “serious condition” to be considered for FMLA. The FMLA has set forth very specific guidelines for what a “serious condition” really is. And yes, they do have an official, printed list of what serious conditions really are. Check it out:

    • A condition which results in an overnight hospital, nursing home, or hospice stay and is followed by a period of time where the employee can’t do normal activities or needs follow-up care.
    • A chronic condition that requires periodic trips to the doctor. With this comes further stipulations: the employee must be seen at least twice yearly by a doctor for the condition; chronic conditions that require time off work when flare-ups occur are counted.
    • A condition that requires multiple treatments and would result in 3+ days of incapacity if left untreated.
    • Pregnancy or prenatal care that make it impossible to work.

             So, in this section, you learned a lot about what FMLA isn’t. Hopefully this answered some of your questions about the complicated act and gave you a better understanding about how it really works. For employers and employees alike, there are stringent requirements. If you and your employer meet all of these requirements, you’re basically good to go.

             In the next section, we’re diving into common FMLA myths. By exposing some of the misconceptions you might have heard, we hope to give you an even deeper understanding about FMLA. Let’s go!

Part III – Family Medical Leave Act: Myths Busted

             Just in case you took a break and came back to read this later, we’ll recap the first two sections! In the first section, you learned the definition of FMLA, Family Medical Leave Act which employers are required to comply with, and which employees can become eligible. In the second section, we went more in-depth by discussing what FMLA isn’t. We also talked about the definition of a “serious condition” and which conditions are eligible for FMLA.

             Now, we’re moving on to the third and final section of this article. Who wants to do a little myth busting? We’re going to shame some of the most popular myths about FMLA right now. Let’s get to work!

  1. FMLA must be taken all at once.
    Nope. Not true! You can take FMLA in portions as deemed appropriate by your employer. You can take one week now and 11 later, if you want – but you don’t have to take it all together!
  2. FMLA is guaranteed.
    You feel that you have probable cause and you turned in your paperwork. Even though you feel pretty confident, FMLA still isn’t guaranteed. Your employer must meet the requirements, and you must also meet the criteria. Your application for FMLA must also include credible medical documentation to support your claim. If there’s a problem with any of these things, your FMLA request could be denied.
  3. Your company has to furnish FMLA.
    As we talked about earlier, companies don’t have to comply with FMLA unless they meet specific requirements. If your company meets those requirements, they must inform you about FMLA when you start the job.
  4. You’re going to pay for health insurance.
    Any medical benefits that your company paid for prior to your FMLA leave must continue to be paid for the duration of the leave. Your health insurance costs should not rise during this time. If you do not return to work, however, you could be forced to pay your employer back.
  5. FMLA is only for moms of newborns, not dads.
    False! Fathers of newborn babies can also take FMLA leave within the first year.
  6. Same-sex partners can’t get FMLA for new children.
    If a same-sex couple is legally married and either adopts a child, or one of them have a baby, they are each entitled to FMLA leave.
  7. All workers at FMLA-obligated companies are eligible for FMLA leave.
    We had to throw in a tricky one. You might automatically think that this one can’t possibly be false. Believe it or not, this one is a myth. Now, technically a company isn’t supposed to deny FMLA. When key workers, or high-paid, salaried workers, are paid only salary, their pay is in the top 10% of all employees within 75 miles, and their FMLA leave would cause the company to hemorrhage money, then they can be denied. If these employees take FMLA leave, they won’t be guaranteed a position upon their return.

             In this final section, we covered some of the common myths about Family Medical Leave Act. Out of all 3 sections of this article, you’ve learned a ton about FMLA. If this hasn’t answered your question, then I recommend checking with a lawyer. FMLA can get pretty complicated, and your employer might not always be able to answer your questions. Feel free to share this article with anyone you know that might have questions about FMLA!

Has Your Employer Illegally Denied Your Family Medical Leave?

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              Economic and emotional damages usually occur when these laws are violated. If you believe you may been denied your legal right to FMLA Leave it is important that you protect your case. Discrimination, Harassment or Retaliation should not prevent you from asserting your right to FMLA Leave. Get help instead. We know how to fight against Discrimination. We won’t pressure you and we won’t tell your employer. Call Hogie & Campbell for a Free Consultation at (714) 508-6422.

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