Labor and Employment

The Family and Medical Leave Act

At least one time during our careers, we have sat through an excruciatingly boring employee orientation. It does not matter if you were about to become the CEO of a company or the dishwasher for a national restaurant brand.

You endured several hours of legal speak.

You watched videos that described sexual harassment, as well as role played to create the ideal workplace ambiance.

I bet you do not remember the human resources expert discussing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Well the FMLA was discussed; it was just mention in a passing sentence or two to cover the employer’s legal tracks.

Overview of the FMLA

Recognizing the trend of dual income households, the United States Congress passed the FMLA in 1993. President Clinton signed the bill into law shortly thereafter to address to dramatically changing dynamic of the traditional American family. Several states have expanded the legal coverage granted under the FMLA, but the federal law offers more than enough extended time away from work for most parents who work at least one job. The landmark law created minimum federal government guidelines for employees to enjoy unpaid leave for a wide variety of reasons.

What the FMLA Covers

The FMLA allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid employment leave within every 12-month period, which typically begins on the first day of employment. Employees use the unpaid time to handle personal problems, go through the final stages of pregnancy, or take care of sick family members. Although the leave is unpaid, employees still receive all of the benefits offered by employers. When the unpaid leave ends, an employer must file paperwork that reinstates an employee who took unpaid leave. Under the FMLA, employers are prohibited from moving employees to different positions. Employees receive the same compensation and job security they enjoyed before taking employment leave.

Reasons for Unpaid Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 created numerous legally valid reasons for employees to request unpaid leave. Serious health conditions rank as the leading reason employees invoke their FMLA rights. The next most prevalent reason is the need to take care of a family member who is afflicted with a serious medical condition. The original legislation did not spell out what constitutes a serious medical condition, but legal precedent in the form of myriad court decisions has narrowed the definition. Pregnancy and the adoption of a child also represent reasons why workers choose to take unpaid leave. Many legal experts believe court rulings since the passage of the groundbreaking law have expanded the number of reasons why employees have the legal right to temporarily leave their jobs, without receiving compensation

The FMLA Restrictions

The Family and Medical Leave Act does not cover all employees. In fact, it only requires employers of 50 or more employees to grant unpaid leave for tending to personal matters. This stipulation is especially important, since a majority of companies that operate within the United States employ fewer than 50 employees. However, the FMLA applies to every public sector agency at all levels, without placing a minimum on the number employees who work for the agency. Employees must establish at least 12 months of service with an employer to receive eligibility under the FMLA. Employers can invoke what is called the “positive elimination defense,” which is a fancy way of saying employers can deny reinstatement under the FMLA, if employers can prove an employee would have been fired if he or she had not taken unpaid leave.

A licensed employment law attorney can offer you sound legal advice that helps you take advantage of the most influential labor law passed in the United States over the past 25 years.

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