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Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows certain employees to take an extended amount of unpaid time off for a few qualifying reasons. All public agencies and private businesses with 50 or more employees must comply with FMLA, which applies to those who have worked at least 20 weeks during the current or previous year.

This Act entitles employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during a 12-month period for:

  • The birth or adoption of a child,
  • To care for an immediate family member who has a serious health condition,
  • For the employee's own serious health condition, or
  • For certain military-related situations (such as active-duty deployment).

Many states also have enacted their own family and medical leave laws, some of which expand coverage to smaller employers.

Eligibility Requirements for FMLA

While all qualifying employers must provide family and medical leave for their workers, there are still requirements in order for an employee (independent contractors are not eligible) to claim FMLA leave. Also, the employee must have worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months and a minimum of 1,250 hours during that time. Additionally, the employee's job location must be at or within 75 miles of where at least 50 employees work. It's important to check your state laws, however, as they may have different definitions for which employers are subject to the state's family and medical leave.

In addition to these eligibility requirements, the employee can only request such leave for a few reasons, such as the care of his or her own serious health condition or the serious health condition of an immediate family member. FMLA defines "immediate family member" as a spouse, child, or parent. To be clear, the employee can't take time off and be protected by FMLA to care for the serious health condition of a parent-in-law. The employee also can take leave under this Act for the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child. As the employer, you can ask for certification of the employee's reason for FMLA leave; but you are not entitled to have access to the employee's medical records.

State Family and Medical Leave

FMLA also allows states to enact their own family and medical leave laws, which many states have chosen to do. If an employee is covered by both federal and state laws , usually the leave will count against the time off allowed by both. Sometimes an employee may be entitled to use state and federal leave separately.

Some states have even chosen to provide paid family and/or medical leave as well. For example, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California offer paid family leave, which these states fund through employee-paid payroll taxes. Connecticut has a paid sick leave law which allows employees of certain private sector employers to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually. In 2014, California also passed a law that requires employers to provide up to 24 hours (or 3 days) of paid sick leave to employees. This law allows employees to accrue an hour for every 30 hours worked. Massachusetts voters also approved a paid sick leave law in 2014.

Getting Legal Help

Family and medical leave laws can be complicated, and it's important for small business owners to understand their rights and obligations under these laws. If you have questions or concerns about family and medical leave, you may want to contact a local employment lawyer for guidance.

To find more information related to this topic, you can visit FindLaw's section on Leave Laws.

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