Comprehending FMLA: A Basic Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

fmla-work_life-puzzle-piecesEven the most dedicated employees find themselves in situations where they must balance work and personal responsibilities, requiring them to take a reasonable period of unpaid leave.  This approved absence is referred to as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and is designed to accommodate the rightful interests of employers and employees alike.

Public agencies, schools, and companies with 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius, must offer eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without a break in employment.

FMLA was officially put into practice in 1993 to initially help workers find stability between the pressures of their job and the necessities of their families, and to encourage and protect the overall economic security and integrity of families in the U.S.  Additionally, FMLA shelters employees by disallowing employers from denying, preventing or obstructing any of the rights that the law provides, as violations are dealt with directly by the Department of Labor.

What qualifies an FMLA leave of absence?

  1. Medical leave for serious health condition where employee is unable to work
  2. Birth and care of an employee’s newborn child (time taken off for pre-birth complications can be applied to the 12 weeks of FMLA)
  3. Adoption or foster care placement of a child with an employee
  4. Caring for an immediate family member (child, spouse, or parent) with serious illness or medical condition

Which employees are eligible for FMLA?

If your reason for requesting an extended absence falls within the four approved categories and you work for an organization who is FMLA qualified, you are eligible to apply for leave as long as you have worked for your employer for a minimum of 12 months.  Furthermore, you must have worked for at least 1,250 hours during that 12 month period.

Further Entitlements

FMLA requires that an employee’s group health benefits are continued and paid for by the employer through the 12 week duration; however the employee is also still required to pay his or her insurance premium contributions during this time as well.  Upon cessation of the twelfth week of leave, FMLA entitles employees to immediate reinstatement of their job in either the same or corresponding role.

Moreover, qualified workers also have the right to choose blocks of time for FMLA leave, alternating between traditional employment and approved leave, or in certain situations, as part of a reduced schedule of daily hours.

soldiers-marchingMilitary Specifications

As of January 16, 2009, a new and final ruling updated FMLA directives to apply new entitlement for military family leave, under the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008.  Furthermore, an employee who is caring for a covered service member with a serious illness or injury is entitled to 26 total weeks of leave.

Employer Obligations

  • Organizations covered under FMLA are required to post a notice describing the rights of employees under the FMLA program, as well as provide all new employees with written information on FMLA.
  • When an employer is made aware that a worker will be taking a qualifying leave of absence, they are to make the employee aware of their rights under FMLA law, and supply them with an official eligibility notice, explaining the employee’s responsibilities and rights under FMLA.
  • Employers must also make workers aware of their total allotment of time, and the exact allocation that will deducted from the employee’s total FMLA reserve. This can apply to employees taking shorter leaves, rather than the entire 12 week period.


Understanding the basic elements of FMLA, its reasons, allowances, as well as limitations, will help both employers and employees ensure that the needs of working organizations are in balance with the lives of their actual workers.  While employers must have a zero-tolerance level for abuse of FMLA services, employees must advocate for fair and consistent treatment through the protection of FMLA laws.



Fred Coon, CEO


Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200

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