Family and Medical Leave Act

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What is the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) went into effect on August 5, 1993. FMLA provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12 month period during which their jobs are protected. Job restoration is guaranteed unless the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the job.

This leave can be used to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, to care for a seriously ill spouse, child or parent, or to take care of one’s own serious health condition. Health benefits must be maintained by the employer during this leave, but premiums paid may be recovered under limited circumstances if the employee does not return to work. Employees may be required to use personal, vacation and sick leave before using leave under this law.

When an employee requests leave, it is the employer’s responsibility to designate the leave as FMLA leave. This may be done via a letter to the employee. If the employer fails to do so, the leave may not be counted toward fulfillment of the employer’s 12 week FMLA obligation.

How does FMLA impact any requirements to provide reasonable accommodations?

Employees with disabilities may request a leave of absence to address a medical condition or to get treatment for the disability. This leave could be considered either a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or a request to use FMLA leave - it is the employer’s responsibility to determine which leave. The final regulations for the FMLA state that the provisions of the FMLA are to be considered separate and distinct from reasonable accommodations provisions of the ADA.

The FMLA regulations also state that an employee who is no longer able to perform the essential functions of the job does not have a right to job restoration under the FMLA. However, the ADA may obligate the employer to provide an accommodation if the individual is a qualified individual with a disability, unless it would cause undue hardship. Go to the Americans with Disabilities Act for more information on the ADA. Since this is a complicated area, employers can ensure that they are acting legally by informing the employee of his or her rights under each law.

Which employers are required to follow FMLA?

Employers who are required to comply with this law are those private employers with at least 50 employees within a 75 mile area and all public employers (state, local and federal government organizations).

Who is covered by FMLA?

To be eligible, an employee must have been employed a minimum of 12 months (not necessarily consecutive). During the 12 months preceding the leave, the employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours. Leave due to the serious health condition of a spouse, child, parent or of oneself is clearly defined in the law, primarily an injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. These conditions also include mental illnesses resulting from stress; substance abuse is covered only if the leave is to seek treatment from a health care provider.

Who is responsible for enforcement of FMLA?

The U. S. Department of Labor (DOL), Wage and Hour Division, is responsible for enforcement of this law. For more information, contact the Department at (202) 219-8743 (voice) or (800) 326-3577 (TDD). A Compliance Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act is also available from the DOL at no cost.

Source for material on FMLA: Washington Business Group on Health, ADA Information Brief. Vol. 2, No. 1, The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Employment Laws: Implications for Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities.

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