Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act

Introduced 22 years ago, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can still be a confusing part of a benefit plan. Many employees may feel uncomfortable asking for extended time away from work. Changes in workforce structures and expectations today—for instance, a higher percentage of employees with flexible hours and abilities to work virtually—may have diminished the need for some types of leave when compared to more rigid schedules 20 years ago. However, don’t be afraid to ask for FMLA when your time and attention is demanded elsewhere due to a qualifying circumstance.

Here are some tips if you are considering using FMLA:

  • Check your eligibility as well as any specific requirements from your employer.
    • You must have worked for your current employer for at least 12 months prior to requesting leave, worked at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months (for employees who work 8 hours each day, this is approximately 157 days). If you work for a small employer, be sure they offer FMLA. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to provide FMLA.
    • Your employer may require that you use paid leave as part of your FMLA, such as a paid maternity leave or remaining balances of PTO.
    • Your employer may require proof if using FMLA for a serious health condition. This is understandably a sensitive situation and employers are urged to ask for this information in a responsible manner.
  • Give your employer as much notice as possible to give yourself more negotiating freedom on terms and dates of leave.
  • When possible, be proactive to ensure your work gets covered during your leave. This could involve training other team members, connecting clients to an interim resource, or tabling projects that are not time-sensitive.
  • Consider making a gradual return-to-work plan. Expecting to come back from a long leave and jump back into a 40+ hour work week might be over-ambitious. See if your company has options, such as coming back for only three days a week for the first month, or working 30 hours instead of 40, allowing time for adjustment.

When you use FMLA as a time of mental and emotional re-charge, in addition to physical healing, you will be positioned to return to work as a productive and happy employee—and for that, your employer will be grateful!

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