Is your organization subject to the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Do all of your employees qualify? What would it take for both your organization and your employees to qualify? And what does all of this mean in terms of employer obligations?
Let’s start with the basics: What employers are subject to the FMLA regulations?
Here are the basics of what employers are covered:
- For private companies, the employer must have at least 50 employees to be subject to the FMLA, and these employees must have worked at least 20 or more workweeks in the current or prior calendar year.
- Additionally, there must be at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius for that location to be covered.
- Public (government) agencies and schools are subject to the FMLA regardless of the number of employees.
What this means in practice is that any private employer with fewer than 50 employees does not have to provide FMLA leave. And even employers with more than 50 employees do not have to provide FMLA leave to employees who work in locations where there are fewer than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, even if all other employees are covered.
Bear in mind, an employer with fewer employees than this threshold could still choose to allow unpaid leaves that are in alignment with the FMLA standards, but they would not be required to do so by law.
Now let’s look at employees: Which employees qualify to take FMLA leave?
What must an employee do to qualify under the FMLA?
- First, the employee must have been employed by the employer (the same employer who is subject to the FMLA leave based on the criteria above) for at least 1 year. This requirement does not have to be the preceding year calendar year and need not be consecutive. For example, if an employee worked for the employer in the past, that time could count toward this requirement as long as it was fewer than 7 years ago (or if the absence of more than 7 years was due to military obligations).
- The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer in the preceding 12 months. Vacation or PTO time does not count toward this requirement.
- The employee must work at a location that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, as we noted above.
- Finally, the employee must have a qualifying condition. This includes:
- The employee’s own serious health condition.
- The need to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. “Immediate family member” refers to a spouse, child, or parent.
- Placement or birth of a child. (The right to leave in this instance extends for up to one year after the birth or placement of the child.)
- Any qualifying exigency related to an immediate family member being in the military on “covered active duty.”
And if both the employer and the employee qualify, what does that mean the employee is entitled to?
If the employer is subject to the FMLA leave and the employee qualifies for it, then the employee has the right to up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period, which can be taken in one or more blocks of time. For some conditions, when medically necessary, the leave could also be taken intermittently or on a reduced schedule.
The FMLA also entitles the employee to:
- Job reinstatement upon return from leave, in the same or equivalent role.
- Continuation of group health benefits during the leave period. The employee is still obligated to pay his or her insurance premium contributions during that time.
- Up to 26 total weeks of leave (instead of 12) in the case of caring for a covered service- member with a serious injury or illness.
Beyond employee entitlements, covered employers also have an obligation to:
- Post an FMLA notice explaining employee rights under the FMLA program.
- Give all new employees information about the FMLA, either in the employee handbook or separately upon hire.
- Tell an employee when he or she may have an FMLA-qualifying leave, as soon as the employer reasonably should know that an absence or leave request may qualify.
- Give employees an official eligibility notice for FMLA leaves.
- Explain the employee’s rights and responsibilities under the FMLA.
- For all FMLA leaves, note the FMLA designation and how much of the total leave allotment will be deducted from the employee’s leave bank.
These basic components of the FMLA can help employers to understand their obligations under the FMLA. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg; proper FMLA administration will require a more in-depth understanding of how to ensure employees are qualified, how to curb FMLA abuse, and how to ensure employees are treated fairly and consistently under the program.
About Bridget Miller:
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.