Benefits and Compensation, EntertainHR

This is Us: What’s the FMLA Got to Do With It?

For six seasons, fans of the NBC hit drama This is Us tuned in each week to watch the Pearson Family saga unfold and to have a collective soul cleansing cry. This is Us delicately weaved in and out of multiple time periods to tell the heartwarming story of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) and their children, Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) (collectively, “the Big Three”).

Beginning in season three, the show began incorporating flash forwards that revealed the Pearson family gathered to say their final goodbyes to a mysterious woman referred only to as “her.”  For the next few seasons, This is Us slowly unraveled the mystery surrounding why the family was gathered and explained the presence or absence of each family member. Ultimately, viewers learned that Rebecca was “her.” In the process, the writers revealed that the beloved Rebecca was suffering from dementia. During the fifth and sixth seasons, viewers watched Rebecca slowly deteriorate until she was no longer recognizable as the enviable wife and mother that everyone loved fiercely.  Instead, in a cruel twist of fate, her memory and her sense of independence faded from her grasp more and more with each passing day.

In the final season, Rebecca’s illness began to take a noticeable toll on her primary caregiver, her second husband, Miguel Rivas (Jon Huertas), who just so happened to be her first husband Jack’s best friend. Eventually, Miguel’s own aging and neglect of his own health led the Big Three to stage a family meeting where they all agreed that their mother’s care has grown beyond the limitations of what Miguel could provide alone. They decide to hire a full-time caregiver. Unfortunately, this solution has to be reconsidered when Miguel sadly passes away. Miguel’s death leads the siblings to fight over who is in the best position to take over their mother’s care. Kevin, the wealthy Hollywood star ultimately won the battle and decided to move his family to the house that he built for his mother.

While many critics criticize This is Us for its over-the-top dramatics and what they deem to be “emotional manipulation,” true fans admire the beautiful storytelling, masterful acting, and universality of emotion that it invokes. It is doubtful that the average American has to decide whether the movie star sibling, the United States Senator sibling, or the sibling singlehandedly revolutionizing the educational system for visually impaired children will be the one to take on the task of caring for a loved one with ailing health. Instead, the average employee is often faced with how to maintain their jobs and fulfill their obligations to their families in their time of need.

When faced with an employee who needs to take time off work to care for a family member with a serious health condition, employers should know that the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides certain job protections. It is important that employers know a few crucial basics about the FMLA.

Employers must provide eligible employees FMLA leave if they have 50 or more employees on the payroll for 20 or more calendar workweeks in either the current or preceding calendar year. Eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. To be eligible for FMLA, the employee must have worked for the employer for 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave.

Employees may take leave to provide physical and/or psychological care for a covered family member with a serious health condition. Covered family members include:

  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Parents (including those who assumed the position of parent when the employee was a child)
  • A child for whom the employee assumes the position of parent

Employees may take FMLA in one large chunk of time, intermittently in blocks of time, or on a reduced schedule.

When in doubt, always make sure to ask a trusted employment attorney how to navigate employee FMLA questions.