Labor and Employment

Do You Qualify for FMLA Leave?

The rapid increase in the number of households where both parents worked increased substantially during the 1990s. In response to the growing number of dual-income households, the United States Congress passed the landmark Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). After about 20 years after it became law, many professionals ask their human resources managers “Do I qualify for FMLA leave.”

Overview of FMLA

The FMLA gives employees a legal tool to request time off from work for up to 12 weeks to take care of family and personal medical emergencies. After receiving the new law, the Department of Labor filled in the blanks by defining the reasons that qualify workers to take time off to tend to private affairs. Not every family and personal medical emergency falls under the legal guidelines mandated by the Department of Labor.

The following events typically fall within FMLA time off guidelines:

  • Caring for a family member who has a serious health problem
  • Employee suffers a serious health issue that prevent the employee from completing vital job responsibilities
  • The addition of a child to the family by birth, adoption, or foster care

The million dollar question concerns what constitutes a serious health problem. As clearly described in the FMLA law, a serious health problem involves any injury, sickness, or impairment that requires extensive inpatient medical care or the continued treatment by a health care provider. In addition, only an employee, as well as the employee’s parents and family members, qualify for the legal privileges granted under the FMLA.

Since the reasons for requesting time off vary under the language written into the Family Medical Leave Act, it is important for workers to determine if requests for leave are covered by the employer’s policies.

When Have a Serious Medical Condition

In a vast majority of cases, the FMLA requires employers to approve time off for employees who cannot perform basic job functions because of poor health. If long-term care is needed, an employee can request up 12 weeks of unpaid time off to treat a serious injury or illness. FMLA rules and regulations stipulate a mandatory “Period of incapacity” of more than three consecutive days. If an employee visits a medical care facility two or more times for the same health problem, the visits must happen within the first 30 days when the employee was unable to work.

Birth of a Child

Employees are eligible to take leave for the birth of a child. The mother has the legal right to use FMLA provisions to take off for prenatal care and post-birth care. Fathers also enjoy legal protection by taking off to care for an infant. Parental leave because of the birth of a child does not require either parent to take off 12 consecutive weeks. You can take a few weeks off a time to handle critical stages in the development of a newborn. If both parents work at the same company, only one parent is qualifies for childbirth-related leave.


Pregnancy qualifies for leave whenever a physician places an expectant mother on bed rest. This can occur any time during a pregnancy, but it is more likely to happen during the third trimester. Employees who want leave granted for pregnancy reasons might have to prove pregnancy-related health care issues by presenting a medical certification.

Caring for an Injured Military Family Member

The FMLA includes provisions that allow employees to take care of injured military veterans who are part of the employee’s family. Employees can also request time off to take care of a military family member’s personal business, while the family member serves deployment. For years, court rulings defined family member to mean immediate, such as a wife, husband, brother, sister, son, or daughter. Recent court rulings have expanded the original intent of the FMLA to include family members such as cousins and nieces, as well as aunts and uncles.

FMLA eligibility requires employees to have worked for the same employer for the past 12 months. You also have to submit a FMLA notice to give your employer time to adjust work schedules. Contact an attorney who has experience working on cases that involve the FMLA to ensure you receive all of the legal rights granted within the landmark law.

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